(FLORIDA – November 17, 2010) —
For the third consecutive year, Florida earned an “F” from the March of Dimes for its preterm birth rate. The leader in maternal and child health released its 2010 report card today, the 8th Annual Prematurity Awareness Day®, when the nation is asked to focus its attention on the serious problem of premature birth. In Florida, 13.8% percent of babies were born too soon, before their lungs, brains or other organs were fully developed.
While our state did not improve its preterm birth rate, some factors that can help moms have full-term pregnancies and healthy babies did improve. Florida earned a star for reducing the percentage of women of childbearing age who smoke (from 19.8 to 19.2) and lowering the late preterm birth rate (from 9.8 to 9.7).
“We hope that by reducing risk factors, we will see our state’s rate of premature births improve in the future,” said John Hadden, March of Dimes Florida Chapter Chair. “The March of Dimes supports research, local community grants, NICU Family Support programs, education projects, and advocacy initiatives across the state that work to prevent preterm birth and help moms have full-term pregnancies and healthy babies.”
Following three decades of increases, in 2008 the nation achieved the first two-year decline in the preterm birth rate, when the preliminary preterm birth rate dropped to 12.3 percent. However, the March of Dimes says the rate is still too far from the Healthy People 2010 goal of 7.6 percent and gave the nation a “D”. More than half a million babies still are born preterm each year, a serious health problem that costs the United States more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine.
Prematurity is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive often face lifetime health challenges, including learning disabilities, cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities. Even infants born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants. The last few weeks of pregnancy are critical to a baby’s health because many important organs, including the brain and lungs, are not completely developed until then.
There are known strategies that can lower the risk of an early birth, such as smoking cessation, preconception care, early prenatal care, progesterone treatments for women with a history of preterm birth, avoiding multiples from fertility treatments and avoiding unnecessary c-sections and inductions before 39 weeks.
For the past several decades, the March of Dimes has supported and funded many initiatives to address the issue of preterm birth. Among them is, “The Elimination of Non-Medically Indicated (Elective) Deliveries Before 39 Weeks Gestational Age,” a quality improvement toolkit. This initiative offers educational tools for hospital administrative leadership, clinicians, and patients to better understand the consequences of early elective delivery and the importance of the last weeks of pregnancy. The goal of this March of Dimes initiative is to successfully lower the number of elective deliveries and preterm births. The toolkit is available from the March of Dimes web site: http://www.marchofdimes.com/professionals/medicalresources_39weeks.html.
In Florida, the March of Dimes is partnering with six hospitals during a one year period to guide and support their obstetrical providers, clinical staff, and hospital leadership to develop efficient and successful quality improvements to eliminate elective deliveries prior to 39 weeks gestation. These efforts underscore the fact that the last weeks of pregnancy are critical to a baby’s development. Babies born early are more likely to have feeding, breathing, and learning problems, and are also more likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). By eliminating early elective deliveries, we can improve the health outcomes for both babies and their moms. Participating hospitals are Lee Memorial Health System, Ft. Myers; Plantation General Hospital, Plantation; Santa Rosa Medical Center, Milton; South Miami Hospital, Miami; Broward General Medical Center; and St. Joseph Women’s Hospital, Tampa.