At Cradle Cincinnati, improving data around pregnancy is absolutely central to our work. This is the second in a series of posts about how data can help drive healthy change for Hamilton County.

In 2012 and 2013, Hamilton County’s preterm birth rate averaged 17% higher than the national rate.

Our high prematurity rate is the driving cause of our high infant mortality rate, but it has other implications as well.  About 1500 babies in our community are born too early each year (13.5% of all births in 2012 and 2013). That means that somewhere close to 27,000 kids living in Hamilton County today were born preterm.  Many of them are now thriving, but that population is at increased risk for a variety of ongoing issues.

As we look to solve issues of poverty and education in our community, we must start by looking backwards to the effects of preterm birth. Preterm birth is associated with lower levels of early childhood development, lower reading and math skills at age 8, lower high school graduation rates and lower levels of upward mobility as adults.

Preterm birth is also at the root of some of the ongoing inequality that we see in our city. The preterm birth rate for local African American families is 69% higher than the rate for Caucasian families. Until we give our kids an equal start, we can’t expect to see them finish equally on graduation day.

While our preterm birth rate (<37 weeks gestation) is high, our community has a particularly high rate of “very preterm birth” (<32 weeks gestation).  Our rate here is 55% higher than the national rate. And, of course, these are the babies that are at the highest risk for developmental complications.

Preventing preterm birth is complicated, but pregnancy spacing is one issue where we know can make a big difference. For instance, a recent Cradle Cincinnati analysis showed that a pregnancy that starts less than 6 months after a previous birth is twice as likely to result in a very preterm birth. If we can decrease the number of pregnancies with short spacing in our community, we can bring down our high preterm birth rate.

Pregnancy is the single greatest opportunity we have to break the cycle of poverty. Any good high school teacher will tell you that many of their students came to them so unprepared that it is hard for them to catch up. But, grade school teachers – and even Kindergarten teachers – will often say the same thing. Early intervention has the best opportunity to make a difference. Why not start at the very beginning by supporting families during pregnancy? In a very real way, the future of our city depends on the health of today’s moms.