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Born Too Soon: Premature Birth Rates

Pop quiz: how many babies are born worldwide in the time it takes to say, “Born”? The answer: four. Multiply that out and it is approximately 247 babies each minute for a total of 133 million babies born each year. Most arrive when expected and are healthy; however, a study published May 2, 2012 examined the health and rates of premature births.

050712-1 The study, Born Too Soon: the Global Action Report on Preterm Birth, is the first of its kind. It examines birth rates in 184 countries over three years. The findings are stunning: preterm birth is frequent and deadly; solutions are common and inexpensive. Full-term human babies spend 40 weeks developing in utero. Pre-term babies, or ‘preemies’, arrive at least three weeks early. The study, conducted by a consortium of international health leaders, reveals that 15 million babies are born prematurely, 1 in 10 births worldwide.

Welcoming a baby should be a time of hope. However, parents of preemies often are faced with the terrifying possibility that their child may not survive. Nearly 1.1 million preemies die each year as a result of their prematurity. Newborn deaths—death in the first month of life—account for 40% of all deaths of children under five years old. Preemie survivors often live with lifelong disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, blindness, and learning disabilities. Despite modern medicine, premature birth rates continue to increase.

This week you will examine the findings and suggestions of Born Too Soon, explore the challenges associated with premature birth, and investigate what happens in the final weeks of prenatal development. As you research, consider:

The Final Trimester

050712-2 Human pregnancy is calculated as 40 weeks. The first two weeks of this are prior to fertilization. Human development occurs for 38 weeks—from weeks two through 40.  During this time, human development transforms a microscopic single-celled zygote into a baby. It is a complex and miraculous process. View the stages of fetal development at MSN Health. Read the narration. What happens during the final three months of fetal development? Why are the final months and weeks in utero important? What are the risks to babies born before week 37?

Of course, not every baby remains in utero for 38 weeks. However, it is important that every baby remain in the womb for as long as possible. Discover what factors influence delivery. Read the series of articles on premature birth hosted by Riverside Hospital. What risk factors increase the chance of preterm birth? Which risk factors can a mother-to-be control and how? What are the complications associated with the various treatments to the mother and the baby? Consider what prenatal development happens in the final months of pregnancy. How does this explain various complications? Read about the treatments and drugs used to combat premature birth.050712-3

The March of Dimes

The March of Dimes has long worked to ensure the health of babies. It promotes perinatal health, supports families when babies are not healthy, and educates women about healthy pregnancy habits. They facilitate research and were one of the collaborators of Born Too Soon. As a leader in obstetric and infant health, the March of Dimes website is a must-see stop in your exploration of preterm birth.
In 2003, the March of Dimes initiated the Prematurity Campaign to address the United States’ increasing preterm birth rate. Watch the video to hear what the Surgeon General has to say about preterm birth.

Get to know Your Premature Baby, in-depth. Visit Understanding your Premature Infant. There are eight topics; begin by reading the stories of three preterm babies, Jennifer, Damion, and Sarita. What do these babies have in common? Preterm babies are not simply smaller versions of healthy, full-term babies. Preemies are not fully developed and so they respond and react in different ways. Learn more about how babies communicate in the other seven sections: Infant Cues, Body and Movement, Sleep and Awake, Crying and Fussing, Senses, Interacting, and Feeding. Share some examples of how preemies are different than full-term babies. What additional challenges do they face? What images or information resonated with you?

Read the March of Dimes media announcement about the study, Born Too Soon. Examine the interactive features for Born Too Soon.  Explain the difference between an estimated preterm birth rate (tab 1) and an estimated number of preterm births (tab 2). What is the estimated preterm birth rate for your country? Why is this (not) what you expected?  What other countries have similar estimated preterm birth rates? Open the third tab and unveil the national rankings. Select your country. What is your country’s average preterm birth rate? Explain what this means.  How does its average compare to the global average? How do you explain the rate of preterm births in your country? Scroll down and read the Action Report. Analyze the list of 15 countries that contribute two-thirds of the world’s preterm births. What do these countries have in common? What trends do you notice? What questions do you have? What avenues might researchers explore further? Investigate how you can help (tab 4). What other ideas do you have of ways for you to help?

050712-5 To better understand preterm births in the United States, open the Premature Birth Report Card. The report cards provide several important pieces of information. Create a bar graph that illustrates how many states receive each grade. What regions of the United States receive the highest and lowest grades? To what do you attribute these trends? Open the report card for your state and click “see more” to read a more detailed report. What factors are being graded? Where does your state perform well, according to the March of Dimes, and where does it not? What recommendations does it suggest? In your estimation, are these recommendations reasonable and realistic? What questions, reactions, or additions would you make to this report? Read the report card of a state that received an A and an F. What are the differences in policy and habit between these states?