The community is invited to join Atrium Health Navicent in recognizing November as Prematurity Awareness Month, an opportunity to raise awareness about the 383,082 babies born premature in the United States each year, and what we can do to help prevent premature births.
Each year, 1 in 10 babies is born premature, which means they are born prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy. These babies miss out on important development that happens in the final weeks of pregnancy. Preterm babies can have short- and long-term health problems, or even die.
In 2022, the March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card gave the U.S. a letter grade of D+ with a prematurity rate of 10.5 percent, a significant 4 percent increase in just one year and the highest recorded rate since 2007. In 2022, Georgia’s prematurity rate was 11.9 percent, an increase over the previous year and the state earned a letter grade of F.
“Prematurity is one of the leading causes of infant mortality,” said Dr. Mitch Rodriguez, a neonatologist at Atrium Health Navicent Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital. “While a number of factors may contribute to a premature birth, we encourage women to receive preconception care which helps identify and modify medical, behavioral and social health risks with the goal of having a healthy pregnancy.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and doctors at Atrium Health Navicent, risk factors that contribute to premature births include:
Delivering a premature baby in the past
Being pregnant with multiples
Tobacco use or other substance abuse
Less than 18 months between pregnancies
Advanced maternal age
Low socioeconomic status
The 2022 March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card indicated racial and ethnic disparities in premature birth rates across the United States. The premature birth rate among black women in Georgia is 47 percent higher than the rate among all other women. Georgia has the second-highest maternal mortality rate in the nation, and due to a number of factors, black women in our state are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications.
As part of Atrium Health Navicent’s ongoing commitment to improving outcomes for babies and their mothers, the health system has implemented a care coordination component to support its High-Risk Obstetric Care Management program. Since its inception in late 2022, the program has provided support to patients residing in 15 central Georgia counties.
The care coordinator works with patients to address social drivers of health, such as access to nutritious foods, transportation, income or social support, which may form barriers to care, and aid in bridging those barriers, including linking patients to available community resources.
Ways to reduce your risk for premature birth
It may be possible to reduce your risk for early labor and birth by making health and lifestyle changes. Here’s what you can do:
Visit your medical provider prior to becoming pregnant for a preconception visit to address medical and social issues that may impact pregnancy.
Get to a healthy weight before pregnancy and gain the right amount of weight during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about the weight that’s best for you.
Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs. Ask your doctor about programs that can help you quit.
Go to your first prenatal care checkup as soon as you think you’re pregnant, and continue to go to all your checkups, even if you’re feeling fine. Prenatal care helps your provider make sure you and your baby are healthy.
Get treated for chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and thyroid problems.
Protect yourself from infections. Talk to your provider about vaccinations that can help protect you from certain infections. Wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom or blowing your nose. Don’t eat raw meat, fish or eggs, which may contain harmful germs and bacteria.
Reduce your stress, eat healthy foods and do something active every day.
Wait at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again. Consider using birth control until you’re ready to get pregnant again.
Atrium Health Navicent is ready to help
Atrium Health Navicent provides specialized health care for high-risk pregnancies both through the High-Risk Obstetric Care Management program and a team of maternal and fetal medicine specialists.
If your baby is born premature, Atrium Health Navicent Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital is home to a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NNICU) is equipped with state-of-the-art lifesaving equipment and board-certified neonatologists who deliver around-the-clock newborn care. Housed at central and south Georgia’s only dedicated pediatric facility, the NNICU provides breathing support, support for food and nutrition and temperature support and regulation.