Preterm birth rate still high in Virginia

By Sunni Blevins - bio | email
Posted by Phil Riggan – email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Too many babies are being born too soon.  That was the message today in a report from the March of Dimes.  Virginia's number got better this year at 11.3 percent, but most cities and counties in our coverage area are still much higher than that.

One in eight babies is born premature. That's a scary statistic considering that premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death and even babies who survive often face lifetime health challenge.

In Virginia, 11.3 percent of babies are born early, before their lungs, brains and other organs are fully developed.  The overall rate in Virginia is lower than last year, but lots of places your familiar with are still seeing much higher numbers.

Here's a breakdown: Richmond's rate is 16.2 percent. Chesterfield's is 12.5 and Henrico's 14.3. In Hanover, the number is 12.9, Petersburg is the highest at 18, and New Kent one of the lowest in our region at 11.6 percent.

Susan Brown, a Neonatologist at Henrico Doctor's Hospital says, "it's a concern for all of us, for our friends, for our families, for the impact that it has on our school systems and just the cost for medical care."

Jeff Ricketts, VP of Anthem says, "preterm births cost this country over $26 billion annually, so the cost are significant, and the cost of a preterm birth are about 12 times what it costs for a normal delivery."

The good news is raising awareness can help make these percentages lower across the board.  Some preterm cases cannot be prevented but advocates believe many can.  First by encouraging pregnant women not to smoke. A shocking one in five still do.

They also want uninsured women to get to doctors earlier so problems can be detected.  There are a number of low-cost programs available in almost every community.

Finally, women should postpone elective C-sections and induced labor to at least 39 weeks.  Health experts say every day in the womb reduces the chance of a serious problem.

Ricketts says, "I can't imagine if someone knew what they could be doing to their baby that they wouldn't continue doing that so education is key."

The CDC has a goal of nationally reaching a premature birth rate of 7.6 percent. We are likely years away from reaching that number.

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