Why you should recognize Prematurity Awareness Month

Monday, November 1, marked the 4th annual World Prematurity Day. This is a day set aside to acknowledge the births of our smallest and most fragile babies. In fact, the whole month of November is dedicated as Prematurity Awareness Month. 

These babies face some serious medical challenges and consequences. Here are some sobering statistics about premature births (with premature being defined as being born less than 37 weeks’ gestation):

  • 15 million babies are born prematurely worldwide every year.
  • In the US, 517,000 of our babies arrive too early.
  • Two babies die every minute as the result of complications from prematurity.
  • Worldwide, more children die from prematurity than from AIDS or diarrheal illnesses.
  • The average healthy newborn’s medical expenses are about $4,000, while a premature infant’s can cost $54,000.

You would think that, given how technologically advanced the United States is, we would have one of the lowest premature birth rates in the world. Unfortunately, this is not so. In fact, 11.4 percent of babies born in this country in 2013 were born prematurely. This is more than one in every 10 babies! While our current premature birthrate is the lowest rate in 17 years, we still are not yet at the target goal of 9.6 percent the March of Dimes has set for this country.

Many factors can lead to a baby being born prematurely: the mother can go into spontaneous preterm labor or her bag of water can break early. A lot of these scenarios are not preventable but many can actually be prevented with things like planned pregnancies and high-quality prenatal care.

Another huge contributor to preterm birth—the early delivery of babies who do not have true medical indications—is certainly something that has improved over recent years, but we still have a ways to go. Policies like preventing early elective deliveries or redefining when a pregnancy is full term have helped to raise the awareness that most babies are best left alone to arrive on their own time, rather than be induced or delivered by C-section early.

To get more information on World Prematurity Day, you can visit here. In addition, if you want to learn more about premature birth (including seeing how your state compares to the rest) or find out where to volunteer or donate, the March of Dimes website has lots of useful information.

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About Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, Medical Director, Pregnancy

Dr. Jennifer Lincoln is a board-certified generalist obstetrician/gynecologist and attending physician in Portland, Oregon. She primarily works on labor and delivery has recently been certified as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.


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