Every baby in the state of Washington deserves to have a healthy start. However, the reality is that minority women are disproportionately affected by preterm births.

Minorities are more likely to go into premature labor than white women, despite the fact that Washington has one of the lowest preterm birth rates in the country at 8.1 percent.

However, the state ranked 27th in disparity.

In simpler terms, Washington's American Indian population has a 55 percent higher preterm birth rate than the white population.

"They are asked to leave their communities and leave the providers they know and go into town to find a provider," said Kasey Rivas, maternal and child health director for March of Dimes. "They also have to navigate some pretty difficult services that we offer in Washington, like WIC and maternity support services. So they are really kind of left on their own to figure it all out."

The March of Dimes has been giving grants to health clinics to start group prenatal care. It's been in practice at the Swedish Cherry Hill Campus for about two years with a centering program. Centering Pregnancy offers a unique approach to prenatal care as soon-to-be mothers can make friends, discuss common concerns and teach each other lessons in a culturally sensitive way.

"I have seen people make healthier choices and develop a sense of wisdom about their own body, a sense of confidence about their pregnancy that I don't think would've happened," said Dr. Julie Taraday, head of the Centering Pregnancy Program at Swedish. "I've seen people come to the visits because they were eager to see their friends, and they happen to see me, too, but they were coming because of the social support that they get here."

They also get several more hours of prenatal programming than the average person who goes it alone.

Now March of Dimes is looking for more organizations and clinics to partner with for group prenatal care and bring it to the communities they serve. Right now March of Dimes is working with Yakima Nation and Central Washington Family Medicine to bring attention to tribes. There is even an effort to train some of the tribe's elders to become doulas.

"So instead of making the women go to that brick and mortar clinic, we are trying to alleviate some of those barriers especially with the transportation and having to travel so far," said Rivas.

The efforts have been working. Last year the March of Dimes helped more than 1,000 women and the preterm birth rate among those served was around 4.5 percent -- better than the state average--and with women of color having the greatest benefit. If this was the standard care, Washington could prevent 4,100 preterm births each year.

Rivas said there's an effort to reach out to other tribes and nearby clinics willing to do that kind of partnership.

"It's important because every baby and every woman deserves to have a healthy pregnancy," said Rivas. "A fighting chance for every baby is our tagline, and that's what we're doing here."