Premature birth affects more than half a million babies in the United States. We are all impacted by this crisis. Premature birth is the number one killer of newborns, and the babies that survive are at risk for severe lifelong disabilities causing emotional and financial stress for families and society at large. We now know that even late preterm and early term babies are at risk for hearing and vision problems, low birth weight, jaundice, low blood sugar, respiratory distress, infection, difficulty sucking/swallowing and extended hospital stay.
Thanks to the March of Dimes and their national campaign Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait there is hope. The goal of the campaign has been to educate women and providers about the importance of waiting until at least 39 weeks before scheduling elective deliveries by induction or C-section. Waiting until 39 weeks or later allows the baby to fully develop all organs, including the brain which weighs only two-thirds of what it will weigh at 39 – 40 weeks. Prenatal education and MOD’s collaboration with hospital administrators, providers/clinicians, professional organizations and departments of public health are making a difference.
One local example of this mission was the recent statewide meeting of the MA Perinatal Quality Collaborative on November 14, 2011 hosted by ACOG, March of Dimes and MA Department of Public Health. According to Deborah Kotz of the Boston Globe, attendance was high and consisted of hospital administrators, obstetricians, midwives and nurses. Their goal was to form consensus among the participants on how to define elective early delivery as opposed to early deliveries that are medically justified. The good news is that many hospitals were already implementing bans on elective births before 39 weeks. The hospital wide ban ensures that providers will adhere to the change in protocol and also makes it easier for them to say “no” to patients that want to schedule an early term delivery for the sake of convenience.
What can YOU do?
Spread the word! If you have friends or family members that are pregnant please encourage them to check out the March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign so they can educate themselves on everything from how to recognize the signs of preterm labor to the benefits of waiting to deliver until after 39 weeks. Offer support and encouragement to your expectant friends that have a hard time as they approach term and begin to feel uncomfortable or “sick of being pregnant”. Suggest ways for them to relax and stay pleasantly occupied so they are less focused on how much longer they have to go. Whether or not you have experienced preterm birth, your involvement is crucial. To share your story and what you will be doing in your family, neighborhood or community in honor of premature babies please go to this March of Dimes link at http://www.shareyourstory.org/.
Today is World Prematurity Day. Let’s all do our part.