In conjunction with National Prematurity Awareness Day, the March of Dimes has released its latest premature birth report card. How did the U.S. fare? A less-than-stellar D, with a dismal average pre-term birth rate of 12.3 percent in 2008 (the latest numbers available). Vermont boasts the lowest pre-term birth rate at 9.5 percent, while Puerto Rico has the highest, with almost 1 in 5 births occurring before 37 weeks. Although the rate of prematurity dipped slightly from the previous few years, it’s still well below the world standard of 7.6 percent set by other industrialized nations.
Why is it so important for buns to stay in the oven until at least 37 weeks? Even babies born just a few weeks early are at increased risk for serious, life-altering medical problems like cerebral palsy, lung problems, vision and hearing loss, and learning disabilities. The March of Dimes exists to help moms achieve full-term pregnancies through education and funding for research so babies can have the best start possible.
I especially appreciate the work that the March of Dimes does. 25 weeks into a textbook pregnancy, I went into pre-term labor. Although I didn’t have any of the obvious risk factors for pre-term labor—I didn’t smoke or drink, received regular healthcare, and had a previous full-term delivery under my belt—I discovered I had an incompetent cervix, a term that makes me imagine my lady parts at a boardroom table getting fired by The Donald. I was sent straight to the hospital, and tried to absorb the grim statistics the team of NICU doctors threw at me. I was given steroids to speed up my baby’s lung development and drugs to stop my contractions; I was also prescribed a course of progesterone, which has been shown to decrease preterm labor. I was discharged and put on bedrest, where I spent a couple months stuck in my apartment as spring bloomed outside my window, trying to figure out how play with my preschooler while in a reclining position. At 33 weeks, my water broke, and my son was delivered a week later. After a week in the NICU, my little four-pounder was discharged, and is now a chunky, curious and utterly charming toddler. Although we still have a long way to go in eliminating pre-term births altogether, I am so thankful to live in a time when doctors had the knowledge and medications, largely through the good work of the March of Dimes, to save my son.
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