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Louisiana, Gulf States receive F rating in the March of Dimes’ 2021 report on maternal health

pregnancy stock file photo
Sergio Santos
Creative Commons
Pregnancy stock file photo.

Louisiana ranked toward the bottom in the nation for maternal and infant health outcomes in an annual report put out by March of Dimes, an organization that promotes maternal and infant health across the United States through research, education and advocacy.

In the advocacy group’s report card released Monday, it gave Louisiana an F rating, along with Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, South Carolina and West Virginia.

The Pelican State also had one of the highest infant mortality rates and preterm birth rates, and two of Louisiana’s major cities were among a list of other cities with the greatest number of births to receive an F.

The criteria through which the grades are determined include, but are not limited to, an examination of states’ preterm birth and infant death rates, social vulnerability, low-risk cesarean births, state efforts on Medicaid expansion and extension, and policies related to doula and midwives.

Infant Mortality

March of Dimes found Louisiana’s infant mortality rate to be 8.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, which is significantly higher than the national infant mortality rate of 5.6 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Louisiana isn’t the only Gulf state with an infant mortality rate well above the national average. Alabama’s infant mortality rate is slightly lower than that of Louisiana, at 7.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. Mississippi, however, holds the highest infant mortality rate in the country, at 9.1 deaths per 1,000 births.

Preterm Birth Rates

In addition to its holistic rating, the organization assigns letter grades to denote a state’s preterm birth rate. Considering its low overall rating, Louisiana unsurprisingly performed poorly in this subcategory.

March of Dimes considers any preterm birth rate at or over 11.5% to constitute an F grade. Louisiana surpassed the group’s failing benchmark with a 12.9% preterm birth rate.

There are significant ethnic and racial disparities when it comes to the state’s preterm birth rates. At 16.6%, Black Louisianans have a preterm birth that is 55% higher than that among all other women, according to March of Dimes. White and Hispanic Louisianans hold the state’s lowest preterm birth rates – 10.8% and 10.2%, respectively.

The data indicates that Caddo Parish has the highest preterm birth rate at 17.1%, whereas Lafayette Parish holds the lowest at 11.7%. At 12.7%, Orleans Parish’s preterm birth rate is relatively consistent with that of the rest of the state.

When compared to other states in the Gulf South, Louisiana fairs either similarly or slightly better. Alabama’s preterm birth rate is 12.9%, exactly that of Louisiana. At 14.2%, Mississippi’s preterm birth rate is the highest in the nation.

Social Vulnerability Index (SVI)

March of Dimes uses a Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) — a number between 0 and 1 — to determine where a pregnant person is more likely to experience poor maternal or infant health outcomes. The factors that determine a given parish’s SVI are grouped into four categories: “socioeconomic status; household composition and disability; minority status and language; and housing type and transportation.”

Virtually every parish in Louisiana was placed in the highest possible SVI category (0.6 - 1.0), indicating that poor health outcomes are highly likely for most pregnant Louisianans. Cameron Parish was the only parish assigned the lowest possible SVI category (0.0 - 0.29).

Similar to Louisiana, a vast majority of counties in Mississippi and Alabama fall in the highest SVI category.

What are state officials doing to improve?

In October, more than a dozen hospitals in Louisiana earned a new designation for high-quality pregnancy care as part of an initiative spearheaded by the Louisiana Department of Health.

The Birth Ready Designation aims to lower the state’s maternal mortality rate and improve health outcomes for Black women, according to health officials.

“We want to honor our hospitals that are putting in the hard work to improve maternal outcomes,” Dr. Veronica Gillipsie-Bell, the collaborative’s medical director, said. “It also is a way for us to encourage all of our hospitals to continue doing the work.”

In addition to data presented in the annual March of Dimes report, the organization offers possible solutions to the US’s maternal and infant health crisis. Their campaign, #BlanketChange, aims to increase access to healthcare; fight for racial and ethnic equity as it relates to maternal and infant care; and decrease the prevalence of preventable conditions that decrease maternal and infant well-being.

To view the full report and read more about their campaign, click here.

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