Premature Birth Rates Drop, but Not Enough

preemieWhen my son was born prematurely at 27 weeks, he was the smallest baby I'd ever seen. At 1 pound, 15 ounces, my husband's wedding band easily slid all the way up and down his tiny little arm. I would have done anything to give him more time in the womb, more time to grow and thrive, and less of a need to fight for his life from the very beginning. We got lucky, and he's a healthy, happy boy today at 8, but so many other preemies don't fare so well. Too many are left with lifelong disabilities or don't live at all.

So it's encouraging to see that progress is being made in preventing prematurity. As November is Prematurity Awareness Month, the March of Dimes today released its annual prematurity birth report card. The good news is that overall the United States bumped its grade up from a "D" to a "C" when it comes to reducing the rates of prematurity, and there's been a three-year improvement. 

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The bad news is that it's still only a "C," and only one state -- Vermont -- received an "A."

As Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes, said in a statement:

The three-year improvement in the U.S. preterm birth rate means that 40,000 more babies were given a healthy start in life and spared the risk of life-long health consequences of an early birth. It means that, nationwide, we saved at least $2 billion in health care and socio-economic costs. Now we owe it to the other half a million infants who were born too soon to work together to give them the same chance.

Indeed we do. With 543,000 babies still born too soon each year (before 37 weeks), it's clear that much work is still needed to be done. But the best news in all of this is there are steps that can be taken to prevent prematurity.

I had severe preeclampsia that caused my premature delivery. As far as doctors can deduce, there's nothing I could have done to prevent it, though it's possible if I had more awareness about the disease, it could have been treated earlier. During my second pregnancy, I felt helpless that there was nothing I could do to prevent it again, but at least I knew what to look for. Fortunately I didn't develop it with my daughter, but it's encouraging that some women can take steps to avoid a premature delivery and that they're doing so.

So what's working? The March of Dimes credits education about medically unnecessary c-sections and inductions scheduled before 39 weeks of pregnancy as well as new treatments, like progesterone, which may help prevent some preterm births. To reach the goal of lowering the rate of premature births to 9.6 percent by 2020, they also believe the following steps need to be taken:

  • Give all women of childbearing age access to health care coverage
  • Fully implement proven interventions to reduce the risk of an early birth, such as not smoking during pregnancy
  • Preconception and early prenatal care for all women
  • Avoidance of multiples from fertility treatments
  • Funding new research on prevention of preterm birth

Hopefully, we'll be able to reach that goal, and then set new ones, until every baby is given the healthy start they deserve.

Did you have a pre-term baby? Do you think that if you had more information beforehand, it could have possibly been prevented?


Image via hudsonthego/Flickr

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