On June 18, we held a news conference with the Arizona March of Dimes and the Arizona Perinatal Trust to officially launch a new campaign to reduce preventable preterm births.  We got great coverage this week, including a FOX News interview  that aired in several other cities across the country.  We’ve joined a national challenge issued by the President of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and pledged to set a goal of reducing premature births by 8% by 2014.  This would mean 800 more babies would make it to full term.

Why the focus on prematurity? Many babies die because they’re born too soon.  In 2010, almost 200 babies died due to prematurity, the leading cause of deaths for newborns.  Even babies born a few weeks early have high odds of learning disabilities, vision & hearing loss and cerebral palsy. The Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait  campaign stresses that if the pregnancy is healthy, it’s best to let labor begin on its own rather than scheduling an early delivery.

Until recently, it’s been an accepted practice for parents-to-be and doctors to schedule elective (non-medically necessary) inductions or c-sections just for the convenience of the parents’ schedule, or the doctor’s schedule, or because a date holds a special meaning for the family.  Because of the hard work of the Arizona Perinatal Trust (APT) promoting the March of Dimes 39-week Toolkit this practice may soon be a thing of the past.  90% of all APT-certified hospitals have already agreed to put a stop to allowing elective inductions and c-sections prior to 39 weeks.  This will go a long way to reducing preterm births, but there’s more that we can do.

In the past decade, mounting scientific evidence has concluded that if pregnancy outcomes are going to improve, it’s real important that women and men are as healthy as possible before conception.  We call this preconception health, and the concept is simple.   Healthy people are more likely to have healthy babies.  Prenatal care is important, but it’s not magic.   We can’t expect even the best prenatal care to undo the damage that may have been sustained through years of unhealthy behaviors and stressful environments.  It is not a substitute for being healthy, especially when about half of all pregnancies are unplanned.

Our interventions include implementing evidence-based practices to get moms to stop smoking, practice good oral health, improve physical activity and nutrition and behavioral health- all are part of our Preconception Health Strategic Plan and our Every Woman Arizona educational materials, grants to implement preconception health strategies, and home visitation programs that address many of the things that lead to prematurity.  Our WIC program and clinics also work with young moms in their reproductive years to improve their health.  Maintaining a healthy weight before pregnancy is really critical.  Women who are obese are at higher risk for infant death, premature births and several birth defects (brain, spinal and some heart defects) and babies born large for gestation. Obese mothers are at greater risk of experiencing gestational diabetes, high blood pressure etc.- associated with preterm births.

Most of us know what we need to do to be healthy, but sometimes we lack motivation to make those healthy choices for ourselves.  But the choices we make today are not just for ourselves – they are choices for our kids & the next generation.  Check out our new Healthy Babies webpage for more information about the campaign and view the new March of Dimes public service announcement.