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Message from the State Health Officer

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National Prematurity Awareness Month

An estimated 15 million babies around the world are born premature each year and more than 1 million of them do not survive their early birth. Although the U.S. has seen sustained improvement in its preterm birth rate, 1 in 10 babies is born too soon and prematurity continues to be the number one killer of these babies. The good news is that over the past six decades we have gained a better understanding of some of the factors affecting fetal health, and we can inform mothers on ways to reduce factors associated with having a premature birth. Mothers who quit smoking, avoid alcohol or drugs, obtain timely prenatal care, follow appropriate birth spacing, and manage chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity greatly reduce their chances of having a preterm delivery.

Preterm birth is the birth of an infant before 37 weeks of pregnancy. In 2013, preterm birth accounted for 16.4 percent of all infant deaths in Alabama. In 2013, Alabama’s infant mortality rate at 35 weeks gestation was 10.6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 2.4 infant deaths per 1,000 live births at 40 weeks gestation. Infants born too soon or too small cost society more than $26 billion a year and can take a high financial toll on families. Babies born just a few weeks early require longer hospital stays, have increased risk of long-term health problems, and lifelong learning and physical disabilities.

November is National Prematurity Awareness Month®. The Alabama Department of Public Health along with federal, state, and local partners is working to raise public awareness about prematurity and highlight work being conducted to reduce prematurity in Alabama. Ongoing collaboratives to reduce prematurity in Alabama include:

  • Getting preconception care so a woman is healthy both before she becomes pregnant and between pregnancies.
  • Eliminating non-medically indicated deliveries prior to 39 weeks gestation
  • Ensuring that mothers and infants deliver at the appropriate facility to meet specific medical needs of the mother and infant
  • Reducing unhealthy lifestyle choices and behaviors

Raising awareness about prematurity and reducing the number of preterm births are the first steps to defeating it. The Alabama Department of Public Health is dedicated to working with the March of Dimes and other partners to bring attention to this serious infant health problem with the goal of allowing every baby a healthy start in life. Join the effort and pledge purple for preemies in recognition of World Prematurity Day November 17, 2015.

To learn more about prematurity and to pledge your support, please visit the March of Dimes.

Additional Resources:

Thomas M. Miller, M.D.
Acting State Health Officer

(November 2015)

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