-A guest post from March of Dimes.  Thank you Ali Shaw.
This year, for the first time, a World Prematurity Day will be observed on Thursday, November 17 by the March of Dimes, along with organizations in Africa, Europe, and Australia. An estimated 13 million babies are born preterm and of those one million die as a result of their early birth, according to an October 2009 March of Dimes report on the global toll of preterm birth. 

Kentucky will participate in World Prematurity Day by hosting a Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait® symposium at the Hilton Suites Lexington Green Hotel in Lexington, Kentucky. Leaders within the quality improvement program will discuss ways to further lower preterm birth rates in the Bluegrass state. Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait® is a partnership between the March of Dimes, Johnson & Johnson, and the Kentucky Department for Public Health. Now in its fifth year, the program has been working to educate women and perinatal providers about the problems of preterm birth and particularly late preterm birth (delivery at 34-36 weeks gestation). The program’s goal is to decrease the singleton preterm birth rate in selected areas by 15 percent by incorporating numerous known strategies for prematurity prevention, such as smoking cessation, early prenatal care, and avoiding unnecessary deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy. The successful program now is being adapted for use in New Jersey and Texas.

Additional Prematurity Awareness events that are happening throughout the month of November in Kentucky include supporters wearing the March of Dimes signature purple, (especially on Nov. 17 to recognize the March of Dimes and to celebrate the strides that we are making in giving every child a better chance at a healthy start to life), volunteers changing their facebook photo to a baby picture (either a premature or a healthy baby), Signature Chefs Auctions being held across the state, and the LG&E building on West Main Street in Louisville being lit up in purple lights throughout the month. 

Kentucky recently received a “D” on the March of Dimes 2011 Premature Birth Report Card, better than last year’s “F.” Factors that contribute to preterm birth improved in Kentucky. It earned a star for reducing the percentage of women of childbearing age who smoke and for lowering the late preterm birth rate.

Since 2006, Kentucky’s preterm birth rate has dropped to 13.6 percent. In Kentucky, the rate of late preterm births is 9.7 percent; the rate of women smoking is 27.3 percent, and the rate of uninsured women is 22.8 percent.

The United States received a “C” on the March of Dimes Report Card. Grades are based on comparing the state and the nation’s 2009 preliminary preterm birth rates with the March of Dimes 2020 goal of 9.6 percent of all live births. The U.S. preterm birth rate is 12.2 percent down nearly 5 percent from the peak of 12.8 percent in 2006. 

Preterm birth, birth before 37 weeks completed gestation, is a serious health problem that costs the United States more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine. It is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifetime health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and others. Even babies born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants. At least 39 weeks of pregnancy are critical to a baby’s health because many important organs, including the brain, are not completely developed until then. 

The March of Dimes says its 2020 preterm birth goal can be achieved by a combination of activities: giving all women of childbearing age access to health care coverage, fully implementing proven interventions to reduce the risk of an early birth, such as not smoking during pregnancy, getting preconception and early prenatal care, progesterone treatments for women who are medically eligible, avoiding multiples from fertility treatments, avoiding elective c-sections and inductions before 39 weeks of pregnancy, and by funding new research on prevention of preterm birth. 

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. On November 17, 2011, the March of Dimes and its global partners will observe the first-ever World Prematurity Day to raise awareness that preterm birth is a serious problem worldwide. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.com or nacersano.org. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.