Texas has contributed to the six-year national improvement in pre-term birth rates by lowering the number of babies born early, according to the March of Dimes.
Premature birth, or birth before 37 weeks, is considered a serious health problem that costs the United States $26 billion every year, according to the Institute of Medicine. It is the leading cause of infant mortality and those infants who do survive often face myriad health problems and lifetime complications as a result of their early birth. Babies born at 39 weeks and later have a fully developed brain and lungs as well as other organs, and are hospitalized less frequently.
On the 2013 March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card, 31 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia saw an improvement in the number of pre-term births between 2011-12. Nationwide, the largest decline of premature births came between 34-36 weeks of pregnancy, and each racial and ethnic group saw improvements.
“Partnerships with the Department of State Health Services and local hospitals have helped us make newborn health a priority and lowered our pre-term birth rate, making a difference in babies’ lives,” said Dr. Charletta Guillory, Prematurity Campaign Chair for the Texas Chapter of March of Dimes, in a news release. “We will continue to work to give all babies a healthy start in life because too many are still born too soon, before their lungs, brains or other organs are fully developed.”
The nation saw a peak in the number of pre-term births in 2006; since then, nearly every state has noted improvements.
“Pre-term birth is one of the leading causes of neonatal mortality so obviously doing what you can to reduce that risk is pretty important,” said Mary Gockenbach, a certified professional midwife with Edenway Birth Center. “Texas has a pre-term birth rate that is lower than the national average.”
Nationally, the pre-term birth rate is 11.5 percent, down from its peak of 12.8 percent in 2006. Texas has a pre-term birth rate of 8.8 percent. Both the U.S. and Texas received a “C” on the report card, based on comparing the state and country’s preliminary birth rates, along with a goal of 9.6 percent pre-term births of all live births by 2020.
A new progesterone drug, 17 alpha-hydroxyprogesterone caproate, or P17, is making strides in keeping women from delivering babies early, said Carla Morrow, a certified nurse midwife at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Cleburne.
“In the last five or six years they have done some studies that show that this medicine can reduce prematurity rates by up to 40 percent,” she said. “If you can identify that mother and give her the P17, they have a very good chance of having their babies at full term. We are very impressed; we are even seeing more than 40 percent in our practice.”
During the month of November, March of Dimes also wants the nation to focus on the crisis of premature birth with Prematurity Awareness Month.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, one in eight babies is born early, but that doesn’t have to be the case, Gockenbach said.
Preventing pre-term labor and delivery can be done as early as the first few weeks of pregnancy if women ensure they are getting enough nutrients and staying properly hydrated, she said. These things are especially true for women with risk factors such as previous pre-term deliveries or miscarriages, illness or infection.
“I really believe that education can go a long way in preventing pre-term labor and birth,” she said. “Women can start viewing their choices as an investment for their birth. Taking responsibility for their actions and seeing the results is encouraging.”
Pregnant women should get anywhere from 80-100 grams of protein a day, about double the amount of the average person, Gockenbach said. The protein should come from whole food sources, not processed or boxed food.
“And, if you can, eat organic,” she said. “Our food has become devoid of nutrition due to a variety of reasons. Pregnant women should also take a daily prenatal vitamin that is whole food or plant-based as opposed to synthetic.”
Morrow said that other than basic nutrition, a new type of prenatal care in which a group of pregnant women spend up to two and a half hours with their provider is also helping to reduce the number of pre-term births, because it gives women a chance to interact and discuss their pregnancies in a casual setting — not in a 15-minute appointment with their doctor.
The group prenatal classes are not yet available at Morrow’s office where OB/GYN Dr. Steven Farzam practices, but it is coming soon, Morrow said.
For more information on Edenway Birth Center, including Birth Boot Camp classes, call 817-558-2229. For more information on Farzam’s office, call 817-556-7777.