According to a new report from the March of Dimes, the overall number of babies born prematurely in the United States has declined, but a significant increase in the number of babies born to mothers who were foreign-born raises concerns about the future of the trends.
In the first three months of this year, there were 31,566 premature births in the United States, according to the report. That represents a decline of 4.1% from the previous year and is the first decline since 2010. But it’s the highest total on record and the increase of foreign-born mothers that has the health organization concerned.
“The increase is most likely due to increased immigrant maternal age at birth and whether foreign-born women who are just entering the United States become pregnant prematurely as compared to native-born women,” Dr. Kristina Carey, vice president of medical affairs at the March of Dimes, said in a statement.
In 1990, 13.2% of births in the United States were to women born outside the country. In 2015, the proportion of births to non-US-born mothers rose to 16.6%.
Based on the average gestational age of women in the United States, one in eight births to foreign-born mothers occurred to women who were 26 or younger when they gave birth, according to the report. That is higher than the average of 15.6% of births to US-born mothers.
Low birthweight is also a problem for US-born and foreign-born mothers, with 61% of US born mothers and 48% of foreign-born mothers having babies weighing less than 5.1 pounds.
“Immigrants tend to have more births below 5.1 pounds which is considered low birthweight, than do native-born women, which results in 1,400 babies born each year in the United States who will not make it to their fifth birthday,” said Carey.
“It is time to address this problem and ensure we are ready to accommodate the growing migrant population. Our health care system should be prepared to treat any visit to the hospital that may be required by a woman who is out of here from her country of origin, and we need a system in place that is going to ensure foreign-born families are receiving the health care they need.”
“We have some of the best, most modern facilities for newborns in the world and we should do everything we can to take care of our newborns and babies from any country.”
The March of Dimes has been working to prevent premature births since 1924, when it started the American Little Baby Time Campaign.
The organization has identified several factors that can increase the risk of a premature birth. These include women who smoke or have tobacco in their blood, are obese or a carrier of HIV, are more likely to have obesity in their mother’s womb or to have diabetes in their father’s womb, or if they smoke during pregnancy and stress.
Studies have also shown that women who have given birth recently are more likely to have a low birthweight baby. Babies born in the last three weeks of pregnancy can be at risk of an underweight birth.