World Prematurity Day: A healthy baby is worth the wait

premieToday is World Prematurity Day, and dozens of organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, March of Dimes, and the World Health Organization are coming together to raise awareness about premature births and the devastating impact they can have on families.

Every year in the United States, nearly half a million babies are born prematurely, and in Minnesota we see many of them in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). When a family has a child in the NICU it can be one of the most stressful and scary times of their lives. The Windschitl family was able to take home their two daughters after 99 days in the NICU this past week. They shared their story of what it was like to have two children born at just 27 weeks.

Minnesota has made progress in reducing premature births and recently received a ‘B’ grade from March of Dimes Premature Birth Reporting Card. The grades are based on a states progress towards lowering the premature birth rate to 9.6 percent by 2020 (Minnesota is currently at 9.9 percent, down from a high of 10.5 percent in 2005).

At Children’s the premature babies we see are those that need special care. But sometimes deliveries are scheduled before 39 weeks of pregnancy, even when there is no urgent medical need. What we know is that some pretty critical developmental milestones occur in those last few weeks of pregnancy: an infant’s brain nearly doubles in weight, and lung and organ development continues during this time.

To encourage families to wait until 39 weeks to schedule a delivery when there is no medical need, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Department of Human Services and the Minnesota Hospital Association are collaborating on a Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait campaign, which will include PSAs, health information and a soon-to-be released iPhone app. The March of Dimes has additional information on campaign resources available as well.

In Minnesota, the Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait campaign is working to reduce premature births to 8 percent by 2014. You can also learn more about World Prematurity Day on Facebook.