In Washtenaw County, black infants are more than two times more likely to die than white infants before their first birthday, and more than two times more likely to be born premature or low birth weight. Many of these deaths and preterm births are preventable by helping all women stay healthier during their childbearing years, whether they are currently pregnant or not. Birth weight has been found to be the primary predictor of infant survival, and prenatal care is a key factor in preventing preterm births and very low birth weight babies.
What causes low birth weight?
The primary cause of very low birth weight is premature birth (born before 37 weeks gestation). Very low birth weight babies are often born before 30 weeks of pregnancy. Being born early means a baby has less time in the mother's uterus to grow and gain weight. Much of a baby's weight is gained during the latter part of pregnancy.
Who is at risk of having a low birth weight baby?
Any baby born prematurely is more likely to be very small. However, there are other factors that can also contribute to the risk of very low birth weight. These include:
- Age: Teen mothers (especially those younger than 15 years old) have a much higher risk of having a baby with very low birth weight.
- Mother's health: Women who are exposed to drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes during pregnancy are more likely to have low or very low birth weight babies. Mothers of lower socioeconomic status are also more likely to have higher levels of stress, poorer pregnancy nutrition, inadequate prenatal care, and pregnancy complications - all factors that can contribute to very low birth weight.
- Multiple births: Multiple birth babies are at an increased risk of very low birth weight because they often are premature. About 10% of twins and more than one-third of triplets have very low birth weight.
- Race: African-American babies are twice as likely to have very low birth weight compared to Caucasian babies. Why? Medical researchers now suspect that a lifetime of chronic stress caused by racial discrimination can negatively impact pregnancy, as well as other health outcomes.
- The March of Dimes has valuable information for how to have a healthy pregnancy.
- Smoking While Pregnant (PDF): A report describing smoking rates and outcomes for mothers in Washtenaw County.
- Opioid Related Overdoses (PDF): A report describing trends in opioid related deaths and overdoses, including those in women of childbearing age, and how these can affect a child born with an opioid addiction.
- Healthy Women (PDF): Women's health and behavior before, during, and after pregnancy are important factors in keeping themselves and their babies as healthy as they can be. This report presents findings from the recent HIP survey, and describes the health of all women of reproductive age in Washtenaw County.
- Safe Sleep in Washtenaw County (PDF): Several infant deaths each year in Washtenaw County are related to unsafe sleep positions. Every loss of infant life is a tragedy, and using safe sleep practices is a way to prevent these losses.
- Washtenaw Area Council for Children provides safe sleep education for new and expecting parents and caregivers.
- A Parent’s Guide to Safe Sleep is available in English and Spanish from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Washtenaw County Health Resources (PDF) List of local agencies and phone numbers to contact for assistance with a variety of health services, ranging from alcohol abuse, to emergency housing, to weight management.
- “When the Bough Breaks” PBS series Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? available at the Ann Arbor District Library.
- Infant Mortality Statistics: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Vital Records and Health Statistics.