Raising Awareness on Prematurity in the U.S.

Did you know more than 380,000 babies are born prematurely in the U.S. each year?

According to the March of Dimes, the United States earned a “C” on its annual premature birth report card. It is the first time in eight years that the preterm birth rate in the U.S. worsened, dropping from 9.57 percent to 9.63 percent in 2015.

The report also reveals prematurity rates were significantly higher among minority populations. The preterm birth rate among African-American women was 48 percent higher than the rate among all other women.

The preterm birth rate was even worse here in the state of South Carolina, which earned a “D” on its annual report card.

Babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are called “premature.” Born this early, babies can have serious health problems, including increased risk for lung and respiratory issues, heart issues and development delays.

November is Prematurity Awareness Month®, and it’s an important time to remind all women and families to understand their risk for preterm labor and premature birth. Risk factors include:

  • Drinking alcohol and abusing drugs, such as street drugs or prescription medications;
  • Socioeconomic status, including having little education or low income; being unemployed; or having little support from family and friends;
  • Experiencing domestic violence;
  • Working long hours or having to stand for long periods of time; and,
  • Being exposed to pollutants, like air pollution and harmful chemicals.

Other risk factors for preterm labor and premature birth include being younger than 17 or older than 35. Race and ethnicity can play a role as well.

Fortunately, women can help to reduce their risk factors for preterm labor:

  • Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or abuse drugs. Talk to your provider about programs in your area that can help you quit.
  • Schedule your first prenatal care appointment as soon as you think you’re pregnant. During pregnancy, go to all your prenatal care appointments. Prenatal care helps your provider make sure you and your baby are healthy.
  • Talk to your provider about your weight. Ask how much weight you should gain during pregnancy, or try to get to a healthy weight before your next pregnancy.
  • Get treated for chronic health conditions, like high blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid problems.
  • Reduce stress. Exercise and eat healthy foods. Ask for help from family and friends, and try to reduce stress in the workplace.
  • Wait at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again. See your provider for a preconception checkup before your next pregnancy.

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Dr. Robert London, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, has served as the senior medical director for WellCare of South Carolina since 2014. In this role, he is responsible for overseeing the clinical direction of medical services and quality functions in the state. He provides medical leadership for the effective care integration of pharmacy operations; utilization, behavioral health, case and disease management activities; and quality improvement.

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