Being born too soon is the number one killer of infants in Arizona and in the nation. Death rates from prematurity are declining but babies born too soon (before 37 weeks) often face medical, developmental and social challenges as they get older. More than 8,000 babies in Arizona were born too soon last year. This week the March of Dimes released the 2011 Premature Birth Report Card that grades States on their premature birth rates. While Arizona was average- there was good news related to the reduction in the percentage of uninsured women and the number of women who smoke.
Some of the known factors impacting prematurity include having twins/triplets, having a chronic disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure, being obese, smoking, and alcohol or illegal drug use. One of our main approaches to reducing prematurity rates is to improve the health of women before they get pregnant- called preconception health. Prenatal care is still important- but poor health practices during pregnancy will usually trump good prenatal care.
Our interventions include implementing evidence-based practices to get moms to stop smoking, improve physical activity and nutrition and behavioral health- and all are part of our Preconception Health Strategic Plan which includes Every Woman Arizona educational materials, grants to six local communities to implement preconception health strategies, and home visitation programs that address many of the factors that can lead to prematurity. Our WIC program and clinics also work with young moms in their reproductive years to improve their health. We also work with the Arizona March of Dimes and the Arizona Perinatal Trust to encourage hospitals to adopt policies designed to ensure that elective inductions aren’t approved before 39 weeks gestation.