The percentage of premature births in Pennsylvania is declining but not enough to prevent the state from earning a "D" on the third annual report card from the March of Dimes. This latest report card studied births from 2008. In Pennsylvania, 11.6% of the births in 2008 occurred before 37 weeks gestation. That compares to 11.8% in 2007. Still, Dolores Smith, State Director of Program Services for the March of Dimes, says that in Pennsylvania more than 17,000 babies are born too soon each year before their lungs, brains and other organs are fully developed.
Pennsylvania's rate of women of childbearing age who smoke did fall to 23.4%. Smith says a leading cause of preterm birth is smoking while pregnant.
“If women smoke during their pregnancy they tend to have lower birth-weight babies even if their babies are full term. But there also is a risk of preterm birth related to maternal smoking while pregnant.”
Smith says preterm births bring serious health risks to the baby and can be prevented by being healthy and planning pregnancies while maintaining a relationship with one’s OB/GYN.
According to Smith, there are many problems that arise out of preterm births.
“Some have really very serious long-term issues, cerebral palsy, blindness, vision and hearing loss, difficulties in swallowing or breathing. There are some very serious complications simply because a baby is born too small and too soon.”
Smith also says that different health factors in different races can also affect pregnancy, and African-American women should be aware they face a higher possibility of having a child preterm.
“We look at all the disparities in health outcomes, you know heart health, diabetes, hypertension related to being African-American particularly. We also see that some of those same factors can negatively impact birth outcomes.”
The March of Dimes Report Card gave the nation a grade of "D" because the rate of premature births is still far from the Healthy People 2010 goal of 7.6%.