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Health and Family Services Cabinet
Premature Births Can Be Prevented

Press Release Date:  Tuesday, November 20, 2007  
Contact Information:  Gwenda Bond or Beth Fisher, (502) 564-6786  

DPH Highlights Importance of Awareness, Healthy Pregnancies in November

In honor of Prematurity Awareness Month, the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) is highlighting its commitment to preventing preterm birth (babies born before 37 weeks of completed gestation) and improving birth outcomes throughout Kentucky.

Kentucky has one of the highest rates of preterm birth – the nation’s leading cause of neonatal deaths. At 14 percent, the rate of preterm birth in Kentucky is nearly two percentage points higher than the national average and has increased more than 24 percent in the past decade.

“A lot of the baby’s development happens in the last four to six weeks of pregnancy, especially brain development,” said Ruth Ann Shepherd, M.D., director of DPH’s division of maternal and child health. “Unless medical complications arise, women should try to carry their babies to full term, or about 40 weeks.”

Here’s a closer look at the impact both in terms of the health of infants and for the cost of health care created by preterm births:

· Preterm infants who are born only a few weeks from their due date have twice the risk of death than infants born at full term. 

· Babies born before 37 weeks are still vulnerable to many short-term and long-term effects of premature birth and even permanent disabilities.

· Even babies born only four to six weeks early can have effects from preterm birth, such as breathing difficulties, feeding problems, jaundice and underdeveloped brains.

· Preterm births cost significantly more than full-term, healthy births.

· In 2005, the annual societal economic cost (medical, educational and lost productivity) associated with preterm birth in the United States was at least $26.2 billion.

· Neonatal intensive care unit charges related to preterm birth in Kentucky alone amounted to $204 million in 2005. 

DPH is participating in a major awareness initiative by partnering with the national March of Dimes and Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute to promote the “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait” prematurity prevention initiative. Kentucky was selected as the only state in the nation to participate in this $1.5 million effort. The three-year program, which began in 2007, is designed to prevent as many preterm births as possible using clinical and public health interventions, and to raise community awareness.

The goal is to maximize all of the services in the community that can help lower the rates of preterm birth.  Three intervention sites in diverse geographic regions - King’s Daughters Medical Center in Ashland; Trover Clinic/ Regional Medical Center in Hopkins County; and University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington -  are participating in this project.        

All pregnant women are encouraged to seek prenatal care from a health care provider as soon as they find out they are pregnant and to continue prenatal care throughout the course of their pregnancy.

Many preterm births, especially late preterm births, can be prevented by addressing known risk factors, including, but not limited to:

· Avoiding alcohol and tobacco use and secondhand smoke.

· Careful attention to nutrition and weight.

· Appropriate treatment for existing medical conditions.

· Avoiding inductions or Caesarean deliveries with no medical reason for having these procedures.

· Knowing possible signs and symptoms of preterm labor (uterine contractions, menstrual-like cramps, dull backache, pelvic pressure, abdominal cramping and vaginal discharge).

DPH encourages all Kentuckians to take action to help prevent preterm birth. To find out more about what you can do, visit the “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait” Web site at, or call the Department for Public Health at (502) 564-2154.




Last Updated 11/20/2007