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Prematurity — It's a Bigger Problem Than You Think
Article by: K. Lynn Kammermeyer, Ph.D., Director of Program Services
Idaho State March of Dimes
What Causes Preterm Birth?
A baby may be delivered preterm after a doctor induces labor due to pregnancy complications or health problems in the mother. However, most preterm births are a result of preterm labor (which may follow premature rupture of the membranes or PROM). The causes of preterm labor and PROM are not fully understood, but the latest research suggests that many cases are triggered by the body’s natural response to certain infections, including infections involving the amniotic fluid and fetal membranes. However, in most cases, a doctor cannot determine why a woman delivered preterm. And, at this time, there often is little the doctor or the pregnant woman can do to prevent preterm labor.
Studies suggest that certain factors increase a woman’s risk of delivering preterm:
• Previous preterm birth;
• Expecting twins or other multiples;
• Uterine or cervical abnormalities;
• Obstetric complications (such as placental problems) ;
• Smoking, drinking alcohol, or using illicit drugs;
• Age under 18 or over 35; and
• Maternal or fetal stress.
The March of Dimes
The March of Dimes ha a nationwide, five-year Prematurity Campaign, investing $75 million dollars to increase research, awareness, and education around the problems of prematurity to help American families have healthier babies.
Many people do not realize that premature birth is a problem and that it continues to get worse. The problem of prematurity:
• More than 467,000 babies (about 1 in 8) are born prematurely each year in the U. S.;
• The rate of premature birth has increased over the last three decades. The current rate (2001) is 11.9 percent, the highest ever recorded;
• Nearly half of all premature births have unknown causes;
• Prematurity is the leading cause of infant death in the first month of life;
• 50 percent of babies born early suffer from lifelong health problems;
• In 2001, more than 2000 babies were born too soon (and often too small) in Idaho;
• While Idaho’s premature birth rate of 10.2 percent is lower than the national average, it has risen 17 percent since 1990.
The two goals of the March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign are to raise public awareness of the problems of prematurity and to measurably reduce the rate of prematurity. The March of Dimes will develop activities in five areas to achieve these goals:
1. Raise public awareness of the problems of prematurity;
2. Educate pregnant women and their families to recognize the signs of preterm labor. Support parents of babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICU);
3. Assist health care practitioners to improve prematurity risk detection and address risk-associated factors;
4. Invest more public and private research dollars to identify causes of preterm labor and prematurity, and to identify and test promising interventions; and
5. Expand access to health insurance to improve prenatal care and infant health outcomes.
The March of Dimes has partnered with a number of organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric & Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN).