Across our nation, virtually every measure of the health related to pregnant women and their babies is going in the wrong direction. For the third year in a row, a significant number of American babies were born too soon.

November marks Prematurity Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness and support for babies and families affected by premature birth, as well as bring attention to the striking disparities in the health of mothers and babies from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Striking disparities

Black children face the highest early death rate among racial and ethnic groups in our country. In fact, research shows that mothers of color are up to 50 percent more likely to give birth prematurely, and their babies can face a 130 percent higher chance of dying before their first birthday compared to other ethnicities.

But there is something we can do about it. Last month we launched #blanketchange, a campaign designed to cultivate awareness and drive action for the urgent health crises moms and babies in this country face, including rising rates of maternal mortality and preterm birth. It is imperative that we advocate to ensure that all women have access to quality health care before, during and after pregnancy.

Empowering communities

We can empower families and communities with the knowledge and tools they need to get the best possible start in life. We can work to help our partners in the health professions get the training and resources they need to give the best care. We must support research to discover the unknown causes of premature birth, knowing that the answers to this complex problem will involve a combination of factors and interventions.

Now more than ever, we need to come together and take concrete steps to reverse this alarming trend. The most important resource in this country is human potential. That begins with ensuring every baby has the healthiest start in life, regardless of their racial or ethnic background. By expanding proven programs and innovative solutions, we can make the necessary shift to improve care for moms and lower the preterm birth rate. Birth equity is our goal, and I believe it can be reached.

We must act now — our nation’s mothers and babies cannot wait any longer. If we come together as a community, we can create solutions that support healthy moms and strong babies not just in November, but all year long.