The March of Dimes just released its annual report card marking how well states are doing in the battle to lower the percentage of babies born prematurely.  Being born too soon can cause long-term disabilities in children including cerebral palsy, developmental delay, respiratory problems and vision and hearing problems.  Sadly, prematurity is also the leading cause of infant death in Arizona.  In 2011, 199 Arizona infants died from being born too soon.

This year we launched a Healthy Babies initiative and pledged to reduce prematurity 8% by 2014.  We’ve been working hard with our partners, especially the March of Dimes Arizona Chapter and the Arizona Perinatal Trust to implement strategies, like reducing elective deliveries before 39 weeks.  We now know how important those last weeks of pregnancy are to a developing baby.  A baby’s brain at 35 weeks weighs only two thirds of what it will weigh at 39-40 weeks. 

The report card shows Arizona’s prematurity rate declined from 12.7% in 2009 to 12.1% in 2011.  This is a 4.7% reduction, meaning we are a little over half way there to meeting our goal of an 8% reduction.  The progress is good, but there’s more work to do.

One of our main leverage points in the battle to reduce prematurity is the multi-agency system of home visiting programs for pregnant women and families with young children.  The system – known as Strong Families Arizona – offers many home visiting programs that can help a pregnant woman learn about her pregnancy and her baby.  The home visitor can also teach a family about safe sleep for baby.  Click on this link to see if you are eligible for home visiting and if it is available in your neighborhood. 

Preterm birth can happen to anyone and most women who have a premature birth have no known risk factors.  We do know about half of premature births are as a result of preterm labor.  There are things that women can do to help their health and lower the risk of having a premature baby such as quit smoking and avoid alcohol or drugs; see your health care provider for a medical checkup before pregnancy; maintain a healthy weight; work with your health care provider to control diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes; get prenatal care early, as soon as you think you may be pregnant, and discuss concerns during pregnancy with your health care provider.