Idea Gallery is a recurring editorial series on NewPublicHealth in which guest authors provide their perspective on issues affecting public health. Today, Jennifer L. Howse, PhD, president of the March of Dimes, comments on efforts to give more babies a healthier start in life. This week, a regional Infant Mortality Summit will kick off a collaborative, multi-State initiative to improve infant health outcomes.
A baby born in the United States today faces a one out of eight chance of being born too soon. Prematurity is a common, costly, serious and a largely silent health epidemic. The good news is that national, state and local health officials are addressing this problem with historic public health initiatives to give more babies a healthy start in life.
On Nov. 1, the United States received a grade of “C” on the March of Dimes 2011 Premature Birth Report Card. Preterm birth is the leading cause of newborn death. Babies who survive an early birth face an increased risk of serious life-long health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, or learning disabilities. Even babies born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than “full-term” infants (39-40 weeks of pregnancy). We’ve developed an educational campaign and a hospital-based toolkit to help parents and professionals better understand the critical importance of those last weeks of pregnancy to a baby’s health.
Although the U.S. preterm birth rate has improved slightly in recent years, nearly half a million infants still are born too soon. Each early birth places a terrible emotional toll on families and a financial burden on the health system. In fact, the first year health and medical costs of one preterm birth are nearly ten times more than a full term birth.
But, the problem hasn’t gone unheeded.