Preterm births are subject of educational campaign

National, state and local efforts strive to reduce numbers.

Jenny Holp doesn’t know why her labor started just 28 weeks into her pregnancy.

Her daughter, Katie, was 3 pounds, 4 ounces when she was born July 8, 2004, at Kettering Medical Center. After a transfer to the neonatal intensive care unit at Miami Valley Hospital, Katie remained there for seven weeks, three of which she spent attached to a heart monitor. At one point, her weight dropped as low as 2 pounds, 12 ounces.

Katie, this year’s ambassador child for the March of Dimes Miami Valley Division, left the hospital at the end of August 2004, but the Holps were warned that their daughter could face long-term health complications. Today, however, she’s an active and healthy third-grader at Brookville Elementary School.

“She’s done amazingly well and has been very blessed,” said Holp, of Brookville. “To look at her, you’d never know she was a preemie.”

While Katie’s story ended well, other babies aren’t as lucky. Preterm birth, defined as birth taking place before 37 weeks gestation, is the leading cause of newborn death in the United States, according to the March of Dimes, and the babies who survive often face notable health challenges throughout their lives.

“Unless we bring attention to it, it’s not going to change,” said Jackie Allen, director for the March of Dimes Miami Valley Division. “We’re attacking it from many different angles.”

As part of its Prematurity Awareness Month campaign, the March of Dimes released a state-by-state Premature Birth Report Card in mid-November and designated Nov. 17 as World Prematurity Day to promote awareness of the public health issues related to preterm birth. Ohio received a “C” on the group’s report card, as 12 percent of Ohio babies were born prematurely in 2011. That’s down slightly from 12.2 percent in 2010 and down more than a percentage point from the 13.3 percent recorded on the state’s first report card in 2006.

States with a preterm birth rate between 11.3 and 12.9 percent receive a C. The United States as a whole earned a C, as 11.7 percent of all American births last year were premature. The March of Dimes aims to lower the national rate to 9.6 percent by 2020.

“This is really good news,” said Lisa Holloway, director of program services and public affairs for the March of Dimes Ohio Chapter. “We are seeing preterm birth rates go down in Ohio, and our efforts are paying off.”

Holloway said the continued reduction in preterm birth rates can be attributed to a multifaceted approach on the national, state and local levels. Such efforts include funding research to determine why babies like Katie Holp are born prematurely, improving care for preterm babies, advocating for better maternal health care and raising awareness of the importance of letting pregnancies progress to at least 39 weeks gestation before medical procedures are considered.

Locally, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center received close to $3 million in grants from the organization in 2011 for 12 research projects to improve diagnosis and treatment of various birth defects, enhance treatment for premature babies and prevent preterm birth when possible.

The Ohio Perinatal Quality Collaborative — an initiative headquartered at Cincinnati Children’s that includes Dayton Children’s and other large birthing hospitals in Ohio — received a $20,000 grant to support initiatives to cut scheduled or induced deliveries before 39 weeks gestation unless medically necessary. Ohio decreased its rate of inductions and Caesarean sections taking place in the “late-preterm” period of 34-36 weeks gestation from 8.4 percent in 2010 to 8.2 percent in 2011.

One area of concern was an increase in the number of uninsured women, which rose from 16.0 percent in 2010 to 17.8 percent in 2011. Lack of health insurance limits access to maternal health and prenatal care, factors that can lead to increased premature birth rates.

Jenny Holp said she had little knowledge or information about preterm birth before Katie was born, but her experience has led her to help other parents of preemies and expecting parents have access to information and resources that could save their children’s lives.

“I remember praying and saying, ‘Lord, if you let Katie be OK, I will pay it forward,’ ” Holp said.

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