Ohio receives D grade for preterm births; maternal and infant health crisis worsens

Preterm births in Ohio have received a D grade for 2022, a 2.1% rise from 2020, according to The 2022 March of Dimes Report Card. A decrease in maternity access across the state has left many pregnant and birthing people without resources, creating higher infant mortality rates, preterm births, and inadequate prenatal care. 

Northeast Ohio alone has three counties with no labor and delivery units; Portage, Ashtabula, and Medina. This has created a higher risk of dangers for birthing folks and their babies, as they must travel further to give birth and receive help in an emergency regarding their pregnancy. 

Portage County closed its last labor and delivery unit this November without learning any lessons from the tragedies caused by the closure of Medina and Ashtuabula’s units in previous years. 

News Channel 5 shares one pregnant couple’s story of living in Medina County, who tragically lost their baby after the mother had to be life-flighted to the nearest county with a labor and delivery unit- what would have been a 30-minute drive.

March of Dimes defines counties with no labor and delivery units or birthing centers as “Maternity Care Deserts” – “Maternity care deserts are counties in which access to maternity health care services is limited or absent, either through lack of services or barriers to a woman’s ability to access that care within counties.”

As of 2020, Ohio had 13 Maternity Care Deserts and various other counties with low or moderate access to maternity care. Because of this, Ohio has seen a 6.5% infant fatality rate in 2022. In 2019 alone, 927 infants died before their first birthday.

Even counties across Ohio with decent or good access to maternity care are seeing vulnerable pregnancy outcomes due to various factors across the state, including access to reproductive healthcare, socioeconomic determinants, and physical environment, according to the March of Dimes Maternal Vulnerability Index. 

“On average, women in Ohio are more vulnerable to adverse maternal health outcomes due to state-level conditions than the average woman in the US,” according to Surgo Ventures.

One in about ten babies in Ohio are born premature, with an average of 2,484 babies born in a week, 284 are born preterm. 13.8% of pregnant people will receive inadequate prenatal care. 

Black women across Ohio are the most affected by the vulnerable factors causing preterm births, making up 14.5% of all preterm births, a 51% higher rate than any other group. 

Preterm birth is defined as a birth with less than 37 weeks gestation. Data used within The March of Dimes Report comes from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) natality files, which is compiled from 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program.