One in nine babies in Oklahoma in 2018 were born too early, according to March of Dimes. Photo courtesy NewsOn6

One in nine babies in Oklahoma was born too early, or before 37 weeks gestation, in 2018, prompting March of Dimes to give the state a D- on its annual report card. 

The report, released Monday, found a preterm birth rate of 11.4 percent in the state, an increase compared to 11.1 percent in 2017. Overall, the U.S. rate increased for the fourth year in a row, earning it a “C” grade.  March of Dimes is a national nonprofit that supports research, education and advocacy related to infant and maternal health. 

The report also highlighted racial disparities in the state. In Oklahoma, the preterm birth rate among black women is 38 percent higher than the rate among other women, the report found. 

“The health of moms and babies in Oklahoma 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,” said Belinda Rogers, March of Dimes Oklahoma Maternal and Child Health director, in a statement. 

Compared to the previous year, the preterm rate in Canadian, Oklahoma, Rogers and Tulsa counties all increased, the report states. The rate improved in Cleveland and Comanche counties. Oklahoma City, with a premature birth rate of 12.2 percent, received an F on the report card. 

Preterm birth rates are a key indicator of a state’s overall infant and maternal health status. Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death and disability, such as developmental delays, chronic respiratory problems and vision and hearing impairment.

Preterm birth is also expensive — March of Dimes estimated that each preterm birth costs around $54,000. The organization considered the price of medical care for the child, delivery costs and early intervention services. 

This year’s March of Dime’s report card included new information on maternal health factors such as insurance, adequate prenatal care and poverty. 

In Oklahoma, 20.3 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 are uninsured, according to the report. Nationally, 11.7 percent of women do not have health insurance. Oklahoma’s uninsured rate is the second highest in the nation and the state is one of 14 that has not expanded its Medicaid program.

The report points out Oklahoma has made improvements in infant mortality and prematurity in the last several years. Infant mortality decreased from 8.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2007 to 7.1 in 2018. 

A few recommendations the report made to improve maternal and infant health: 

  • Comprehensive Medicaid coverage extension for all women to at least one year postpartum 
  • Group prenatal care enhanced reimbursement 
  • Maternal mortality review committees 

Oklahoma has a maternal mortality review committee but it has never released a report of its findings. The committee is expected to release its first report this year. 

On average, one woman dies each month in Oklahoma from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. And for every woman who dies, about 70 experience potentially fatal complications, accounting for nearly 2 percent of all births in the state in 2017.  

Read the March of the Dimes full report for Oklahoma here

Related reading: 

Forgotten Mothers — Investigating maternal care in Oklahoma