What No One Tells Black Women About Preterm Birth

Black mothers are more likely to be at risk for delivering prematurely and least likely to get help to prevent it

Nina Bahadur
Published in
4 min readOct 6, 2020


Illustration: Chelsea Charles

Jessica Wade’s first pregnancy was rife with problems. She and her husband, Marlon, had always known they wanted children and were thrilled when she got a positive pregnancy test. But then the complications began. First, doctors told Wade that she was carrying an “empty sac” with no heartbeat. Then they discovered she was actually carrying twins, and they could hear two heartbeats. And then, they told her, one of the heartbeats they heard was worryingly slow.

Wade says she went to urgent care seven different times between her eighth and 21st week of pregnancy. (A full-term pregnancy typically lasts 40 weeks.) “I knew something was wrong, and something was wrong,” she tells ZORA. At 21 weeks gestation, Wade miscarried one of the twins, and her water broke. Doctors put her on bed rest in the hospital to give the remaining twin a fighting chance.

During her 58 days on bed rest, Wade says, “We dealt with the outside stresses, too. Because just because you’re in the hospital doesn’t mean that life stops, you know?” She couldn’t work, obviously, and her husband lost his job. They lost one of their cars, and the other car broke down. They had to move out of their home on short notice. And then their son was born.

Marlon Jr. was born at just 28 weeks. Wade heard him cry before he was admitted into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) — where he stayed for 143 days.

Preterm birth rates are 50% higher in Black moms than in White ones.

Preterm birth affects roughly one in 10 infants born in the United States. Some of the risk factors for preterm births include a previous preterm delivery, pregnancy with twins or other multiples, a shorter cervix, vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, infections during pregnancy, smoking, poor diet, being younger than 17 or older than 35 — and being Black.

“The situation is getting worse, not better,” says Linda Burke, MD, a board-certified OB-GYN based in Florida. Preterm birth rates are 50% higher in Black moms than in White ones, and…