The campaign, which is slated to be rolled out in other states, educated women about the risk factors for preterm birth, including smoking, poor nutrition, obesity and medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, both of which can be treated during pregnancy to lessen the risk of a premature delivery, Howse said.
And it's not just patients that need educating. Physicians also need to be reminded about the risks of elective early inductions or cesarean sections.
"Women really need support to understand that a pregnancy is 40 weeks, and scheduling an elective induction or C-section prior to that can be quite detrimental to the baby," Howse said.
Studies show even babies born right before 39 weeks -- almost to term but not quite -- are at higher risk of needing to go into the neonatal intensive care unit, are more likely to have feeding problems and respiratory problems, and are more likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than full-term babies are, Howse said.
"During the last six weeks of the pregnancy, the size of the baby's brain almost doubles," Howse said. "Those weeks are critical for brain development."
The reasons for preterm birth aren't fully understood, but one contributing factor, among many, is the increase in twins and multiples as a result of assisted reproductive technology, Howse noted.
Women who are uninsured and get inadequate prenatal care are also at higher risk of having a premature baby.
About 543,000 babies, or one in eight, are born prematurely each year in the United States, according to the March of Dimes. Costs associated with preterm birth are more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine.
The March of Dimes has more about preventing prema
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