Maternal race and intergenerational preterm birth recurrence

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Preterm birth is a complex disorder with a heritable genetic component. Studies of primarily White women born preterm show that they have an increased risk of subsequently delivering preterm. This risk of intergenerational preterm birth is poorly defined among Black women.


Our objective was to evaluate and compare intergenerational preterm birth risk among non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic White mothers.


This was a population-based retrospective cohort study, using the Virginia Intergenerational Linked Birth File. All non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic White mothers born in Virginia 1960 through 1996 who delivered their first live-born, nonanomalous, singleton infant ≥20 weeks from 2005 through 2009 were included. We assessed the overall gestational age distribution between non-Hispanic Black and White mothers born term and preterm (<37 weeks) and their infants born term and preterm (<37 weeks) using Cox regression and Kaplan-Meier survivor functions. Mothers were grouped by maternal gestational age at delivery (term, ≥37 completed weeks; late preterm birth, 34-36 weeks; and early preterm birth, <34 weeks). The primary outcomes were: (1) preterm birth among all eligible births; and (2) suspected spontaneous preterm birth among births to women with medical complications (eg, diabetes, hypertension, preeclampsia and thus higher risk for a medically indicated preterm birth). Multivariable logistic regression was used to estimate odds of preterm birth and spontaneous preterm birth by maternal race and maternal gestational age after adjusting for confounders including maternal education, maternal age, smoking, drug/alcohol use, and infant gender.


Of 173,822 deliveries captured in the intergenerational birth cohort, 71,676 (41.2%) women met inclusion criteria for this study. Of the entire cohort, 30.0% (n = 21,467) were non-Hispanic Black and 70.0% were non-Hispanic White mothers. Compared to non-Hispanic White mothers, non-Hispanic Black mothers were more likely to have been born late preterm (6.8% vs 3.7%) or early preterm (2.8 vs 1.0%), P < .001. Non-Hispanic White mothers who were born (early or late) preterm were not at an increased risk of early or late preterm delivery compared to non-Hispanic White mothers born term. The risk of early preterm birth was most pronounced for Black mothers who were born early preterm (adjusted odds ratio, 3.26; 95% confidence interval, 1.77–6.02) compared to non-Hispanic White mothers.


We found an intergenerational effect of preterm birth among non-Hispanic Black mothers but not non-Hispanic White mothers. Black mothers born <34 weeks carry the highest risk of delivering their first child very preterm. Future studies should elucidate the underlying pathways leading to this racial disparity.

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