Many factors involved
About 18 percent of black babies in Oklahoma are born premature, and 13 percent of American Indian babies born in Oklahoma are born premature.
The definition of prematurity is a baby born before 37 weeks of gestational age, Lopez said. At this point, a baby's brain and lungs are not finished developing, which can cause significant health problems in these children.
“It's not just a matter of being premature and it costing $75,000 a week,” Lopez said. “A lot of these premature infants go home and still have significant problems.”
These health problems include cognitive impairment and cerebral palsy, she said.
“In the United States, we spent approximately $26 billion a year for premature infants,” she said. “It's a significant drain on our budget.”
Research shows women who participated in these types of group models in other states have had longer pregnancies, seen a decreased rate of premature births, quit smoking more often than if they hadn't been in the group, go to the emergency room less often and have a higher rate of breast-feeding, she said.
This is partially because the women learn to rely on each other as resources.
“They are empowered to help each other out,” Lopez said. “... We hope that it will continue even after the pregnancy is over, and if it does, we think a lot of these women will help each other out, in terms of nutrition, perhaps taking better care of themselves, taking better care of their babies.”