• December 15, 2019

CATES: Prematurity awareness - Odessa American: Health

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CATES: Prematurity awareness

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Posted: Monday, November 11, 2019 12:30 am

November is national Prematurity Awareness Month, building up to November 17, which is World Prematurity Awareness Day. It is so important that people are aware of and understand why premature birth is such a concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the March of Dimes, premature birth is when a baby has been born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

According to the March of Dimes, premature babies may have more health problems and may need to stay in the hospital longer after birth. The long-term effects of prematurity can include intellectual and developmental disabilities, lung and breathing problems, intestinal problems, infections, vision problems, hearing loss and dental problems. Premature birth is the largest cause of infant death in the United States.

Premature Birth is a significant problem here in Odessa, in Texas, and across the nation. According to the March of Dimes, between 2014 and 2017, 12% of all babies born in Ector County were premature. For 2018, the national prematurity rate was 10.2%, and in Texas it was 10.8%, giving our state a report card grade of D by the March of Dimes. Oregon has the lowest rate of prematurity in the nation at 7.8%. Nationally, about 380,000 babies are born prematurely each year, and the US pre-term birth rate is among the worst in developed nations. Unfortunately in Texas, the prematurity rate has also increased each of the last 4 years. According to the US Census Bureau, 29% of the population of Ector County is female and of childbearing age, and 9% of those give birth each year. Based on those numbers, roughly 4000 babies are born in Ector County every year, 480 of which will be premature. While the Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) in this area provide world-class care, and we have better outcomes than most of the nation, that is still an awful lot of babies at risk of long-term prematurity issues every year.

Prematurity causes not just long-term health problems, it places a significant financial burden on families and the community. The March of Dimes states in the US, premature care costs add up to $26.2 billion dollars a year, and the average family cost is $49,000 in the first year. Worse, however, is the emotional toll of prematurity. Parents often only get to see their babies for a moment before they are taken to a NICU, and holding their little one can often be delayed for days or longer. Mom’s often leave the hospital before the baby does, which causes an emotional toll as well. Even with the best possible care, premature babies are very fragile, which means their condition can change rapidly. Many parents describe NICU as an emotional roller-coaster because of those rapid condition changes. After NICU, if the child does have long-term issues, those take a financial and emotional toll as well.

According to the March of Dimes, the Centers for Disease Control, and every physician I spoke to about prematurity over the last few days, the best prevention for prematurity is prenatal care. See your doctor early and regularly. Make sure you discuss with your doctor health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure or depression and follow their instructions on treating those problems. Don’t smoke, drink, or use illegal drugs. Follow the diet instructions your doctor suggests, including how much weight you should gain. Reduce stress as much as you can, and protect yourself from infection. The March of Dimes has great resources on pregnancy, prematurity, prevention and other pregnancy related resources on their website www.marchofdimes.org.

While birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy is considered premature, there is increasing research that shows babies born between 37 and 39 weeks of pregnancy have more long-term problems than those born after at least 39 weeks of pregnancy. The March of Dimes recommends that women wait for labor to begin on its own. The March of Dimes also states, if your doctor recommends scheduling your baby’s birth, ask if it is possible to wait until at least 39 weeks. Sometimes because of your health or the baby’s health you may need to have your baby earlier than 39 weeks, regardless, it is an important conversation to have with your doctor so you know the risks and benefits of having your baby before 39 weeks.

Prematurity is rising here in Texas, it is higher than it should be here in Odessa. But we can change that. If you are pregnant make sure you see a doctor as soon as you can once you think you are pregnant, and as often as your doctor recommends. If you have loved ones who are pregnant encourage prenatal care and support them in having a healthy pregnancy. All premature births cannot be prevented, but every one we do prevent is a better chance at a happy, healthy life for a child.

Odessa, TX

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