Linda Zak, MD, Minot
Every parent wants to have a healthy baby. But it doesn't always happen that way. More than half a million babies each year are born too soon in the United States and, worldwide, that figure jumps to more than 12 million babies. Because these babies are premature, their lungs and brain haven't had time to fully develop. While many babies deliver prematurely due to factors beyond control, there are several steps one can take to increase the chance that their baby will deliver at term.
We must do more to help babies be born stronger and healthier. On Nov. 17, the March of Dimes joined organizations in Europe, Africa, and Australia to observe World Prematurity Day and focus attention on the serious impact premature birth has on babies and their families.
Prematurity is the leading cause of newborn death in the United States. Even babies born just a few weeks too soon can face serious health challenges and are at risk for lifelong disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, lung problems, vision and hearing loss, autism and learning disabilities.
One of every 10 babies in North Dakota suffer the consequences of being born too soon. Awareness is the first step to solving this problem. Any woman who may become pregnant needs to be in good health herself. Disorders such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity are very common in North Dakota, and are often overlooked as risk factors in having a sick newborn. Babies born to women who have diabetes are at much higher risk of becoming diabetic later in life. In addition to seeking medical care for herself, any woman at risk of becoming pregnant should be taking a vitamin containing folic acid (which can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects) and vitamin D. Smoking, alcohol consumption and illicit drug use are also very dangerous for the overall well-being and development of the baby.
Babies born to mothers that smoke tend to be smaller than those born to mothers who do not smoke - and most problems associated with prematurity occur more commonly in smaller babies. A child born prematurely often has lungs that are not completely developed- and being exposed to second hand smoke can impair the lung development and leave them with significant respiratory problems that may last for years.
Contact the March of Dimes office in North Dakota at www.marchofdimes.com/northdakota to learn more about how we can work together for stronger, healthier babies.