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La. gets failing grade for its high number of premature births

19th November 2012   ·   0 Comments

The March of Dimes last week issued a grade of “F” to Louisiana for having too many premature births.

The report card defined a premature birth (also called preterm birth) as one occurring before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Full-term birth is defined as a pregnancy lasting 39 to 41 weeks

According Tuesday’s report, the three factors measured on the March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card are: smoking among women of child-bearing age, uninsured women and late premature births, meaning births between 34 and 36 weeks.

Women can reduce the risk of premature birth if they quit smoking and get early and regular prenatal care throughout their pregnancies.

The significance of late, preterm births, according to the March of Dimes, is that these births 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. She might not know that at least 39 weeks of pregnancy are important to her baby’s health because many important organs, including the brain and lungs, are not completely developed until then.

The grade of “F” is based on how close Louisiana is to a goal set by the March of Dimes of less than 10 premature births in 100 deliveries, or about 10 percent, a rate it hopes to achieve by the year 2020. The Report Card includes data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) showing Louisiana’s premature birth rate is 15.6 percent.

According to Louisiana Chapter State Director Frankie Robertson, the March of Dimes is leading efforts to improve the grade by advocating for increased access to prenatal health care, by increasing education about why the last weeks of pregnancy are so important to a baby’s health, and by forming partnerships with Louisiana healthcare leaders, including the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH). The goal is to ensure more babies are born healthy by helping all expectant women have a full-term pregnancy if medically possible.

“We are thrilled to be working in partnership with DHH secretary Bruce Greenstein, his team, and the Louisiana Hospital Association,” said Robertson, “The work we have already started will, in the long run, improve the health of Louisiana’s newborns. “Our state statistics show a downward trend in elective premature births during the last several years. We just need to accelerate the improvement.”

Premature birth is a serious health problem that 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 an early birth 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.

March of Dimes and its partners are addressing the Report Card recommendations. Birthing hospitals in the Louisiana Health Association say they will continue to avoid elective deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy unless medically necessary; DHH has renewed it commitment to its LA-Moms program to help more pregnant women qualify for Medicaid coverage; and March of Dimes will continue to advocate for coverage of smoking cessation programs for pregnant women.

“We were the first state to accept the March of Dimes’ challenge to reduce premature births eight percent by 2014, and we continue our aggressive work through programs like our Louisiana Birth Outcomes Initiative to give babies a better chance at living a longer, healthier life from the start,” said Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein. ”While it takes time for these efforts to be reflected in the data, the recognition by the March of Dimes, noting that we are moving in the right direction and presenting Louisiana with the Prematurity Leadership Award earlier this year, is encouraging. Now it’s time to double down on our commitment to delivering a healthier generation of Louisianians.”

The March of Dimes education program is called “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait,” and uses television, radio and printed public service announcements to urge expectant mothers with healthy pregnancies, who may elect early delivery to choose full-term pregnancy instead.

“We’re working to reduce premature births in Louisiana by at least 8 percent between 2009 and 2014,” said Olivard.

This article originally published in the November 19, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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