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Racial disparities in emergency mental healthcare utilization among birthing people with preterm infants.



Birthing people of color are more likely to deliver low birthweight and preterm infants, populations at significant risk of morbidity and mortality. Birthing people of color are also at higher risk for mental health conditions and emergency mental healthcare utilization postpartum. Although this group has been identified as high risk in these contexts, it is not known whether racial and ethnic disparities exist in mental healthcare utilization among birthing people who have delivered preterm.


We sought to determine if racial and ethnic disparities exist in postpartum mental healthcare-associated emergency department visits or hospitalizations for birthing people with preterm infants in a large and diverse population.

Study design

This population-based historic cohort study used a sample of Californian live-born infants born between 2011 and 2017 with linked birth certificates and emergency department visit and hospital admission records from the California Statewide Health Planning and Development database. The sample was restricted to preterm infants (<37 weeks' gestation). Self-reported race and ethnicity groups included Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic Asian, non-Hispanic White, and non-Hispanic others. Mental health diagnoses were identified from the International Classification of Diseases Ninth and Tenth revision codes recorded in emergency department and hospital discharge records. Logistic regression analysis was used to estimate the association between mental health-related emergency department visits and rehospitalizations by race or ethnicity compared with non-Hispanic White birthing people and controlling for the following characteristics and health condition covariates: age, parity, previous preterm birth, body mass index, smoking, alcohol use, hypertension, diabetes, previous mental health diagnosis, and prenatal care.


Of 204,539 birthing people who delivered preterm infants in California, 1982 visited the emergency department and 836 were hospitalized in the first year after preterm birth for a mental health-related illness. Black birthing people were more likely to have a mental health-related emergency department visit and hospitalization (risk ratio, 1.8; 95% confidence interval, 1.5-2.0 and risk ratio, 1.9; 95% confidence interval, 1.5-2.3, respectively) within the first postpartum year than White birthing people. Hispanic and Asian birthing people were less likely to have mental health-related emergency department visits (adjusted risk ratio, 0.7; 95% confidence interval, 0.7-0.8 and adjusted risk ratio, 0.2; 95% confidence interval, 0.2-0.3, respectively) and hospitalizations (adjusted risk ratio, 0.6; 95% confidence interval, 0.5-0.7 and adjusted risk ratio, 0.2; 95% confidence interval, 0.1-0.3, respectively). When controlling for birthing people with a previous mental health diagnosis and those without, the disparities remained the same.


Racial and ethnic disparities exist in emergency mental healthcare escalation among birthing people who have delivered preterm infants. Our findings highlight a need for further investigation into disparate mental health conditions, exacerbations, access to care, and targeted hospital and legislative policies to prevent emergency mental healthcare escalation and reduce disparities.

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