Black Moms Face Triple the Risk of ‘Preemie’ Birth

    Black women are three times more likely than white women to deliver their
    babies prematurely, a new study reveals.  Even worse, they are four times more
    likely to give birth extremely prematurely — between 20 to 28 weeks
    gestation.

    Genetics are the most likely reason for the phenomenon, the study’s lead
    researcher said.

    “It has been known that African-American women have an increased risk of
    preterm delivery,” said Dr. Louis J. Muglia, director of the Center for Preterm
    Birth Research at Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis. “By
    this study we are trying to understand the foundation for that effect.”

    His team published its findings in the February issue of the American
    Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology
    .

    The study tracked more than 700,000 births in Missouri from 1989 to 1997.

    The researchers found that black women were three times more likely than
    their white counterparts to give birth at 20 to 34 weeks of pregnancy, rather
    than full-term (from 37 to 41 weeks).

    The researchers controlled for socioeconomic factors, such as maternal age
    and economic status, Muglia said. Without adjusting for those factors, “the
    incidence of premature delivery would be 6.5-fold higher than in Caucasians,” he
    noted.

    In addition, 21.5 percent of the black women in the study had more than one
    premature delivery, compared to 9.2 percent of white women, the study found.

    While there is no direct proof that genetic differences drive the disparity,
    the evidence does point in that direction, Muglia said. His group now is engaged
    in studies to try to prove that notion, he added.

    “What we would like to do is identify in a broad way the factors that
    increase the incidence of premature delivery,” Muglia said. “We want to identify
    families and examine them for polymorphisms,” genetic differences associated
    with an increased incidence of premature childbirth.

    Muglia and his colleagues have been working with 75 families in the St. Louis
    area for the past three years, and have started a study of similar families in
    Finland. “We don’t have data yet,” he said. “It would take many subjects to pick
    out those genes.”

    One working hypothesis is that there might be some hidden evolutionary
    benefit to preterm delivery. “For maternal survival, it might be better to
    deliver early,” Muglia theorized.

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