We have lots of reasons to be proud of Louisiana including our rich heritage, delicious food, unique way of life and especially in this century, our football teams! However, our national and statewide preterm birth rates are nothing to be proud of. Earlier this month, the March of Dimes released their annual Premature Birth Report Card and found that in 2016, 9.8 percent of U.S. infants were born preterm, which is an increase from 9.6 percent in 2015. Louisiana’s preterm birth rate was 12.3 percent, staggeringly higher than the already dismal national average. Consequently, our state scored an “F” grade on the March of Dimes 2016 Premature Birth Report Card.
So what exactly does preterm birth mean? It’s defined as babies born before 37 weeks. Why is preterm birth something that needs improving? Preterm birth can lead to serious health issues and in some cases, death. Further, the implications of preterm birth include chronic health conditions and disabilities, like impaired vision, breathing problems, cerebral palsy and developmental delays. At 37 weeks, a baby’s brain and lungs are still developing and will continue to develop. As a pediatrician, I work hard to make sure children stay healthy, but preterm birth can put some children at an immediate disadvantage.
What can we do to promote better birth outcomes? March of Dimes president Stacy D. Stewart outlined ways women can decrease the risk of preterm births to parents.com.
- Go to your all your prenatal care appointments.
- Get treated for chronic health conditions, like high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and thyroid problems.
- Get to a healthy weight before pregnancy and gain the right amount of weight during pregnancy.
- Protect yourself from infections: Keep up to date on vaccinations, wash hands frequently, and don't eat raw meat, fish, or eggs.
- Eat healthily, exercise, and don't smoke, drink, or do drugs while pregnant.
- Wait at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again.
Moms can be under a tremendous amount of stress between running their household, working and volunteering, while trying to sneak in a minute to take care of themselves. I know women who have done everything by the book during their pregnancies and still deliver early for medical reasons. That's okay. Sometimes, preterm births are unavoidable, as it's always important to do what's best for baby and mother. My hope is to encourage healthy pregnant women to work with their doctors to ensure they make it 39 weeks, which is full term, and avoid elective early deliveries. I'm always happy to support to my patients’ parents by way of advice or encouragement. Of course, I always suggest my patients’ parents discuss any questions with their OB/GYN or medical specialist before making any decisions. Please let me know what I can do to help you give your baby the best chance at a healthy and happy life.
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