$26 billion. You can purchase a lot with $26 billion: 74 billion twinkies, 108,565 average sedans, or 26 billion cans of Arizona Iced Tea. For Americans, $26 billion is the amount of money spent annually on preterm birth. Many factors go into having a preterm birth, such as genetics, prenatal care, and environmental conditions. But even more of an influence on the child’s health, once delivered, can be those critical hospital weeks before being healthy enough to go home. For mothers, childbirth is a difficult enough journey, but with a preterm baby, the journey enters a new and dangerous phase. This crucial period of hospitalization is often characterized by key maternal activities, like skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, and general involvement in the baby’s life. The sacrifices made economically by forgoing work and addressing hospital expenditures are unfortunately necessary for the American healthcare system when treating a preterm baby. But for low-income mothers, the magnitude of this economic sacrifice is amplified and often leads to poorer health outcomes for the child that are manifested days after birth.
The Child Health Equity Center is analyzing this exact impact on low-income mothers with a randomized control trial in which the effect of supplying mothers with a $160 transfer to support hospital visits will be studied. The belief is that if the financial burden is addressed, the general outcomes of preterm babies will be improved based on the greater maternal presence and decreased financial strain. The study plans to operate under three main divisions over time that determines the proximal, intermediary, and distal impacts of financial assistance on maternal activities, relationships within the NICU, and hospital cost drivers. A program like this will immensely impact health equity within the NICU.
This project reflects larger issues regarding healthcare access in the United States, particularly regarding childbirth. Maternity and paternity leave are inconsistently supplied throughout the country, despite many other developed nations guaranteeing it. Due to the public and private nature of medical costs, childbirth is one of the most expensive healthcare expenditures in the medical system, even for uncomplicated deliveries. But the subsequent costs due to complications are immense and don’t even cover the normal supplies childhood requires, like diapers, beds, car seats, etc. It’s no wonder more and more adults are forgoing having children since the upfront expenditures, financial or time, are so significant.
That is why this project is so unique. It addresses the complexities of childbirth and the diminished feelings of power. In giving low-income mothers financial assistance, rather than mandating they attend programs or other roundabout means of obtaining assistance, they can reclaim some control and autonomy over a system that dictates one of the most remarkable experiences in human existence.
About the Author
Jenna LaFleur is a Child Health Equity Center Intern pursuing an MPH at Boston University School of Public Health, concentrating in Global Health Program Design, Monitoring, and Evaluation. She is currently the Biochemistry Stockroom Manager at Boston University. Her passions include developing and evaluating sustainable health interventions in low- to middle-income countries, with a particular focus on empowering women.