Premature birth rates in Mississippi are at the highest they have been in 10 years, that's according to new data published by the March of Dimes.
The 2019 March of Dimes report shows Mississippi has a 14.2 percent premature birth rate. That means babies are being born too early, or before the 37th week of pregnancy. Over the past 4 years, this number has been growing. In 2017,the premature birth rate in the state was 13.6 percent.
Dr. Jimmy Stewart, Professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center says prenatal care is the best option in preventing premature births. He says if a baby is born prematurely, they may face many health issues.
"It can be lung development and how those lungs function, susceptibility to different infectious diseases over time, good healthy gut function, neurologic development and complications from that over time."
Stacey Stewart is the President and CEO of the March of Dimes. She says access to prenatal care can be difficult for rural Mississippians.
"It's one of the leading causes that is increasing the risk of too many women having babies that are born too sick and too soon. Black women in Mississippi have a higher rate of premature birth as compared to white women. But we also know that in rural areas that often lack access to high quality and affordable care. That can also put women's lives and the babies' lives at risk."
Stewart says the March of Dimes offers access to group prenatal support and other healthcare providers like doulas and midwives to reach women where they are.