The preterm birth rate in California has increased to 8.8%, reaching a 10-year high and earning the state a “B” grade for its preterm birth rate, one key indicator of maternal and infant health, the March of Dimes said Monday.

Los Angeles County’s preterm birth rate ranks fifth highest in the state; the rate remains high at 9.0% unchanged from last year*s report, and up from the rate of 8.8% reported by March of Dimes in 2017.

Beyond preterm birth, the Report Card includes a new focus on maternal health and highlights potential solutions. This year’s Report Card provides a more comprehensive view of the health of moms and babies as their health is deeply intertwined. Preterm birth rates in the U.S. increased for the fourth year in a row to 10.0%, earning it a “C” grade.

The city of Los Angeles ranks #34 among the 100 largest U.S. cities with the greatest number of births.

In California, as in many other states, health disparities within the African American community are a critical issue, according to a March of Dimes statement. While there is no single cause of preterm birth, research shows that chronic inequities and unequal access to quality health care do have a negative impact on these rates.

The preterm birth rate for black women in Los Angeles County, already unacceptable high, increased to 12.8% from 12.1% — which is 66 percent higher than the rate of white women, according to the statement.

The U.S. is among the most dangerous developed nations in which to give birth, the statement asserted. Beside the increasing rates of preterm birth, each year, 22,000 babies die in the U.S., or “two babies an hour. The rates of maternal death and severe pregnancy complications also are unacceptably high. Approximately every 12 hours a woman dies due to complications resulting from pregnancy (more than 60 percent of these deaths are preventable) and thousands of others face life-threatening health challenges.

“Every American should be alarmed about the state of maternal and infant health in this country, because it is an issue that touches each one of us. This is one crisis, not two. The health of moms and babies is powerfully linked, and we need to start treating it as such,” said Stacey D. Stewart, President and CEO of March of Dimes. “This crisis is about the moms and babies we have lost, and those who face serious health challenges. It’s not fine. But with your help, it can be. Join us this Prematurity Awareness Month in the fight for all moms and babies.”

Mashariki Kudumu, March of Dimes Los Angeles County Maternal Child Health Director, added: “The health of moms and babies in Los Angeles must be a priority issue for all of us. By working together, as individuals and across the public and private sectors, we can make significant changes that can give every mom the care she deserves and every baby the best possible start.”

In too many states, Medicaid maternity coverage ends 60 days after giving birth, ending access to care at a time when risks of maternal complications and death persist, according to the statement. Just this year, Gov. Kevin Newsom signed into law an extension of postpartum care up to one year for women covered by Medi-Cal and diagnosed with a mental health condition. March of Dimes views this as a good first step. Ideally, there would be expanded coverage for all women for at least one year postpartum.

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