Nebraska’s premature birth rate dips

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November 13th, 2012

Omaha, NE – For the fifth consecutive year, the rate of premature births declined in Nebraska. That’s despite a rise in the number of uninsured women in the state.

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Babies born before their natural full term are at higher risk to develop a host of problems, including learning disabilities or insufficient respiratory and brain development. And according to the World Health Organization, premature births are a leading cause of infant mortality in the United States.

But for the last five years, the numbers of preterm births have been coming down. “Some of the factors that have helped is the education of the community, understanding the impact of smoking on pregnancy,” said Mary Larsen, director of program services at Nebraska’s March of Dimes, which advocates for healthy babies and pregnancies.

Nebraska’s rate of premature births dipped eight points to 10.6% in 2011, according to a new report from the March of Dimes. (Photo courtesy March of Dimes)

Larsen said the trend in Nebraska mirrors the national numbers. Nebraska’s rate dipped eight points to 10.6% last year. “So that’s quite a decrease,” Larsen said. “That gave us a ‘B.’” That’s the grade the March of Dimes gives to states based on their numbers in its annual report card. Nationally, the grade was a C. The preterm rate dropped three points nationwide to 11.7%.

Those numbers have been steadily declining after an upward trend peaked in 2006. But Larsen said there’s still more work to be done. One of the hurdles is an increasing number of uninsured women. Nebraska’s rate jumped last year from 15.5% to 16.8%, which Larsen said is likely connected to job losses. But she added she’s hopeful those numbers will improve when the new healthcare law is fully implemented. “People will have access not only to prenatal care but they will also have access to preconception health,” Larsen said. “And in that process, any chronic diseases can be addressed before a person even considers getting pregnant, which will greatly impact the health of their baby and themselves in the future.”

Larsen said March of Dimes, which bases its report on numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics, is calling on lawmakers to ensure healthcare is more accessible to women. And she’s also calling on employers to help create work environments that encourage healthy pregnancies. “That attitude that babies are important to the company, and not something that you need to be embarrassed by, or that you need to hide, or that you don’t need to discuss,” Larsen said, “because then if there’s that kind of atmosphere, an employee may not be taking as good care of themselves because they feel the pressure to keep quiet about their situation.”

March of Dimes has set a goal of 9.6% premature births nationwide and in Nebraska by 2020. That’s a full point drop for Nebraska. But if the current trend continues, the state should get there.

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