African American women are 49 percent more likely to give birth early, which is linked to increased mortality, making preterm birth or low birth weight the leading cause of infant death among black infants. A study released this week by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that an unequal quality of neonatal care could be a contributing factor.
The study, “Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Neonatal Intensive Care: A Systematic Review,” published in the August 2019 Pediatrics, found racial or ethnic disparities in care received at neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) that often disadvantaged black infants, and often resulted in worse outcomes for the babies. Researchers reviewed more than 560 studies, focusing on 41 studies of interest, and found research showing disparities in care for non-white patients in the NICU.
Among the findings were that African American women were less likely to deliver in top-tier hospitals and “minority-serving” hospitals had significantly higher neonatal mortality rates. The patient-to-nurse ratio was significantly higher in “minority-serving” hospitals, and moms and babies there received 50 percent less care.
Additionally, low birth weight infants of African American mothers were less likely to receive referrals for early intervention and high-risk infant follow up. And finally, African American mothers reported receiving limited breastfeeding education and support during pregnancy, childbirth, NICU stays, postpartum, and recovery in the community.
Researchers concluded that targeted quality improvement efforts hold promise for improving racial/ethnic equity in care delivery.