UMass Boston

Cross-College Research Team to Address Health Disparities Among Pregnant Black Women

04/23/2020| Colleen Locke

Nationwide, Black Women 49 Percent More Likely to Deliver Preterm

African American mother in a hospital gown kissing newborn
In Massachusetts, black women have a 31 percent higher rate of preterm birth, meaning infants are born at less than 37 weeks instead of 40 weeks.

“ Interventions are needed to address gendered racism. ”

UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies and College of Nursing and Health Sciences have awarded a $10,000 seed grant to the research team of Lisa Heelan-Fancher and Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson. Together, the two will explore interventions to better ensure black women have a healthy pregnancy. 

Heelan-Fancher, an assistant professor of nursing, says in Massachusetts, black women have a 31 percent higher rate of preterm birth, meaning infants are born at less than 37 weeks instead of 40 weeks. Looking at the nation as a whole, the numbers are even worse. In 2018, black women in the United States were 49 percent more likely to deliver their infants preterm compared to white women. Being born too early, Heelan-Fancher says, is associated with low birth weight, which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all infant deaths and contributes to potential health complications that can extend into adulthood. 

“Institutional, interpersonal, gendered, and anticipatory racism are chronic stressors that are associated with an increased risk for preterm birth and low birth weight infants,” added Nsiah-Jefferson, the director of the Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy Graduate Certificate Program and director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy. “This is most evident when black women who had higher levels of education and income had a higher rate of preterm birth compared to white women who had similar and lower levels of education and income. This suggests that interventions are needed to address gendered racism within the context of anticipatory and institutional racism at multiple levels to promote health equity in birth outcomes and beyond.”

Starting in July, Nsiah-Jefferson and Heelan-Fancher will be looking at the associations between and among gendered racism, power as knowing participation in change, and preterm birth outcomes. With the help of a graduate research assistant, they will be surveying participants about community-based and public policy interventions that explore black women’s perceptions of what is needed to have a healthy pregnancy. 

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