While the county’s first report on maternal and infant health care showed that mothers and babies here fared better than their counterparts in both the rest of Maryland and the United States, Montgomery County’s female minorities are more likely to have low-weight babies and other pregnancy-related issues.
The report, which covered the years 2008 to 2017, was released Feb. 14 saying that African Americans have higher percentages of preterm and low-weight babies and of infant and fetal death than other groups in the county.
“Overall, Montgomery County performs better than the state and national averages,” Dr. Travis Gayles, M.D., the county’s health officer, noted in the report. “However, great disparities of pregnancy-related outcomes among population subgroups of race/ethnicity are of particular concern,” he wrote.
“The importance of maternal and infant health cannot be overemphasized, as it determines the health of the next generation and can help predict future public health challenges for families, communities and the health care system,” Gayles noted.
According to the report, the county experienced a decrease in severely complicated pregnancies, yet African Americans and Hispanics had a 60-percent greater risk than their non-Hispanic White counterparts to suffer severe problems, the report noted.
While the county currently provides services to all residents, this report showed the need to relocate some services and put more emphasis on particular topics in certain neighborhoods, said Chunfu Liu, chief epidemiologist with the Department of Health and Human Services.
While this “great disparity” is not unusual throughout the entire country, it needs to be addressed, Liu said, especially because the county’s immigrant population is rising. Some immigrants move here without having the proper vaccinations and are unaware of health services available during pregnancy, Liu said.
While certain populations are at a greater risk for particular health-related issues during pregnancy and childbirth, some of the disparity also can be attributed to a lack of health care facilities in some neighborhoods and poverty levels that keep families from obtaining medical insurance and prenatal care, Liu said.
“There’s probably not a single reason” for the disparity, he said.
The county’s overall birth rate is decreasing. It was 14 per 1,000 births in 2008 and now, is down to about 11.9.
The adolescent birth rate, which includes girls between the ages of 15 and 19, has been decreasing as well. According to the report, Hispanic young women have 33.3 per 1,000 babies born in Montgomery County, and African Americans give birth to 13.8 babies per 1,000 births. Overall, the county’s adolescent birth rate is 11.5 babies per 1,000 births. The new rate is a steep decline from 2008 where the adolescent birth rate was 20 babies per 1,000 born.
About 10 percent of county women overall receive late or no prenatal care at all, according to the report. For African Americans, that rate is 35 percent. It’s 34 percent for Hispanics.
More than a quarter of the babies born to Hispanic women here have low birth weights, while the rate for White people is 25 percent, according to the report.
Overall, the county’s infant mortality rate is five babies for every 1,000 born. African Americans have the highest rate at 8.3 percent, according to the report.
The report also noted that the county “has consistently higher percentages of births” among women who are between the ages of 35 and 44 and among unmarried women as compared with similar women in Maryland.
Though consistently lower than Maryland and the United States as a whole,, infant mortality rates among African Americans are three times higher than among White women, according to the report. African American mothers also are more likely to use tobacco during pregnancy.
The information in this report came from the state’s Department of Health and Vital Statistics, hospital and outpatient records and the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.