By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian
For the sixth year in a row, West Virginia has seen a decrease in its preterm birth rate, which fell to 12.4 percent.
But the decrease wasn’t enough to change the state’s grade in the 2013 March of Dimes Premature Birth Rate Report Card, again earning a “C.”
Amanda Tritt, community director for the West Virginia March of Dimes, said the improvement is encouraging.
“The health of our babies is the most important thing, and anytime we see improvement in the health of the future of our state, it’s a great thing,” Tritt said. “Our employees have been working with outreach and education, and working with local hospitals to work to improve the health of babies in our state.”
Tritt said education is important because some contributing factors to preterm births are preventable.
“In West Virginia, we are facing a lot,” she said. “We’re still No. 1 for smoking while pregnant, and we have a high rate of drug abuse during pregnancy, and these are all things that can be a factor in premature births.
“Those are things we know we can improve upon.”
But Tritt said there is still a lot of research to be done before people will understand the complicated factors that can lead to preterm births.
“Some factors we know we can avoid are smoking, drinking when pregnant, drug abuse and teen pregnancy,” Tritt said, adding that younger mothers’ bodies may not be ready for childbirth.
Two important preventative measures for preterm birth are to have consistent, good prenatal care and to understand the signs of premature labor to be able to get yourself to a health facility sooner after premature labor starts, Tritt said.
But if a baby is born premature, there are more tools to help that baby eventually grow up to lead a normal, healthy life.
“We’re working really hard to be able to improve on the things we’re able to do for premature babies — for example, for brain development, eye development and lung development,” Tritt said.
The March of Dimes helps work to support prenatal care, and has a partnership with the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Charleston. It has a family support specialist who works with families in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“She’s there to provide support,” Tritt said. “She’s a nurse, so she understands what’s going on.”
Tritt said the family support specialist is able to devote extra time to helping the families of the infant.
“Doctors and nurses are wonderful, but for them the patient is the baby, and the family support specialist is there for the families,” Tritt said.
Tritt recommended that families who don’t have a regular physician use the March of Dimes website, which has services and information as well as an “ask an expert” feature.
“Listen to your body,” Tritt said. “Make sure that if there’s something that doesn’t seem right, you’re getting someone else’s opinion because there’s so much that can be done now.”
The March of Dimes started 75 years ago, originally seeking to combat polio. Now the organization primarily does work promoting the health of pregnant women and babies.
West Virginia isn’t the only state to see improvement in its preterm birth rate — it’s actually part of a national trend. In the 2013 report card, 31 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia saw improvements in their preterm birth rates. In addition, almost every state has seen its preterm birth rate decrease since the national peak for preterm birth rates in 2006.
Email Colleen S. Good at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.