Filed Under:  Health & Wellness, National, News

Full-term pregnancies mean healthy babies, says the March of Dimes

26th December 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Kelly Parker
Contributing Writer

Though the arrival of baby can bring about anticipation, excitement and anxiety, the March of Dimes is encouraging expectant mothers to let nature take its course; and with good reason: Nearly a half million babies in the United States (one out of every eight) are born premature each year.

In the past two decades, the United States has seen a 30 percent increase in preterm birth, reaching an all-time high of 12.8 percent in 2006. The increase is due primarily to increases in rates of late preterm birth (34 to 36 weeks gestation)

The March of Dimes has kicked off an aggressive campaign in partnership with LaCare, a Medicaid health plan in Louisiana, urging expectant mothers to do all they can to promote a full-term pregnancy; more than 39 weeks.

Babies gain more than just weight in the last few weeks of development, according to Frankie Robertson, Director of the Louisiana Chapter of the March of Dimes. “Unborn babies are developing even in the last few weeks of pregnancy,” she states.

According to the March of Dimes, expectant mothers may not know that at least 39 weeks of pregnancy are important to her baby’s health; many important organs, including the brain and lungs, are not completely developed until then.

Premature birth is a serious problem that not only can jeopardize the health of babies, but costs the United States more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine. It is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive often face the risk of lifetime health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and others. Even babies born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants.

To help get the word out, LaCare, a participant in Louisiana’s Bayou Health program, presented March of Dimes with a $20,000 gift; promoting the central message is “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait,” meaning a wait of the full term of 39 to 41 weeks. TV and radio commercials can now be seen and heard in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas.

LaCare was happy to partner with the March of Dimes to help support their efforts to reduce premature births in the state.

“We’re committed to improving the health of all Louisianans, but especially its babies,” said Kathy Stone, the group’s executive director.

Recently, the March of Dimes released its 2012 premature birth report card; in which the country received an overall grade of ‘C’. Vermont leads the nation in terms of preventing preterm birth, with a rate of 9.3 percent of babies born before 37 weeks. Four states received failing grades: Puerto Rico, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, with a rate of 15.6 percent preterm births.

In the report, the agency also included factors contributing to premature birth: smoking among women of child-bearing age, lack of prenatal health care and late preterm births (those between 34 and 36 weeks due to induced labor or C-section).

One of the contributing factors that can contribute to the lack of regular prenatal care from the onset of the pregnancy is the number of uninsured women of childbearing age. According to this year’s report card, approximately 28.1 percent of Louisiana women of childbearing age are uninsured.

“This is why we’ve developed this campaign, which educates mothers to wait for labor to begin on its own and reinforces the message to mothers that in order to have a healthy pregnancy, wait at least 39 weeks,” says Makesha L. Judson, MPA, State Director of Program Services and Govern­mental Affairs of the March of Dimes Louisiana.

In addition, Judson states, Louisi­ana was the first state to accept the ASTHO Challenge in partnership with the March of Dimes, which challenges state health officials to reduce preterm birth in their state by eight percent by 2014. Secretary Bruce Green­stein was the first state health official to accept this challenge and has made it a priority of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hos­pitals. Additionally, there are various initiatives spearheaded by the Birth Outcomes Initiative to educate mothers and improve birth outcomes.

The March of Dimes states that a mother’s due date is most commonly estimated based on the date of her last menstrual period before pregnancy. Doctors learn that date simply by asking the mother-to-be. If the mother doesn’t remember exactly, her doctor can miss the actual due date by a week or more. Using that date to schedule a c-section or induction of labor risks causing a preterm birth.

The significance of late preterm births, according to Frankie Robertson, is that they may have been delivered early by choice. The mother may have chosen to be induced or to give birth by C-section, because the last weeks of pregnancy are very uncomfortable.

“It is important to carry a pregnancy as long as possible and for labor to happen on its own to ensure that the baby is born with the best chance at life,” Judson told The Louisiana Weekly. “We understand that pregnancy can be uncomfortable, especially during the last weeks of pregnancy. But, what are a few weeks of discomfort for a mom if she can wait and allow labor to happen on its own and give her baby the best shot for the rest of the child’s life? We believe and are trying to educate women that this decision is an excellent trade-off for the mother and the baby, with long term benefits.”

American College of Obste­tricians and Gynecologists states that medical reasons for induction likely include; a woman’s water has broken and labor has not begun for several hours; she has pregnancy-induced high blood pressure; she has health problems that could affect her baby, like diabetes; there is an infection in her uterus; or her baby is growing too slowly.

If moms–to-be aren’t facing these risks; its best to simply be patient, and let babies arrive naturally; and healthy; which makes the wait well worth it.
This article was originally published in the December 24, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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