Premature birth rate much higher in western Massachusetts, including racial and ethnic disparities


SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP)  – Nearly nine percent of babies born in Massachusetts are born prematurely. That number is pretty consistent with the rest of the country, but the 22News I-Team discovered numbers differ depending on where you live in Massachusetts.

Most moms describe the birth of their children as pure joy, but for Tara Patire of Russell, it was a moment of fear and uncertainty. Her baby, Hunter was born by emergency c-section, weighing just one pound, a micro-preemie.

“Nothing can prepare you, no matter how many face to face conversations you have, about what the NICU life is like,” Tara Patire said.

For Tara and her husband, Jason, NICU life consisted of six months in the intensive care unit. Three months were spent at Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield and three months were in Boston. They’d visit Hunter every day. There would be good days and many setbacks.

“In your head, you think he’s doing okay, but then you hear somebody who’s responsible for his primary care say he’s not doing so well – and then I had to go back and report that to Tara,” Jason Fiddler said.

The 22News I-Team found out that premature birth impacts nearly 9 percent of all babies in Massachusetts. It’s also the biggest contributor to infant death in the first year of life, according to the March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the health of mothers and babies.

Dr. Rachana Singh is the medical director of the NICU at Baystate. She told the I-Team, communities in western Massachusetts have a significantly higher rate of premature birth and infant mortality. In fact, Springfield’s premature birth rate sits at 11-percent, according to the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts. The statewide average is at nine percent.

“When you have a region that has a median income that’s half what the median income of what the state is you know that there are definitely challenges,” Dr. Rachana Singh said.

That’s not the only challenge. There are also racial and ethnic disparities. The 22News I-Team discovered black women experience the highest premature birth rate at 12-percent. Latino women were at 10-percent.

Also a contributing factor, the teen birth rate in Springfield alone is nearly three times higher than Massachusetts as a whole. A teen mother is more likely to give birth early.

As for Tara and Jason, they’re now left with deep grief, but new lessons in strength.

“He is and always will be the greatest joy we ever had,” Tara said.

Baby Hunter died in October of 2018. Tara and Jason hope by telling their story they can keep Hunter’s memory alive – and help other parents going through the same thing, regardless of their background.

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