November is National Prematurity Awareness Month.
Approximately 15 million babies are born prematurely each year. This means roughly one in ten babies will be born preterm worldwide. More than one million of these babies do not survive their preterm birth. This can be an extremely scary and stressful situation for families affected by preterm births. And there are many medical complications associated with prematurity, like immature lungs, difficulty regulating body temperature, poor feeding, and slow weight gain.
Despite seeing sustained improvement in preterm birth rates, the U.S. has one of the highest rates of preterm births of any industrialized nation. The first step in eradicating prematurity is to raise awareness. Organizations like the March of Dimes keep stats on preterm births, invest time and resources into communities to provide better maternal and infant care, and focus efforts on addressing disparities and improving equity in communities with programs focused on specific populations including African-American, Hispanic, Asian-Pacific Islander, and Native American.
The March of Dimes also does extensive research on the statistics of preterm births in each state and determines letter grades for each state based on the metrics they measure. Massachusetts earned a B for 2018, with a total of 8.9% percentage of preterm births statewide. Additionally, the March of Dimes metrics include a disparity ratio to measure and track progress and improvements toward the elimination of racial and ethnic disparity in preterm birth. Massachusetts’ racial disparity ratio is currently at 1.20, which means the numbers have remained the same from previous years. In Massachusetts, the preterm birth rate among black women is 27% higher than the rate among all other women.
But there is still more work to be done.
Throughout the month of November, Prematurity Awareness Month events are scheduled nationwide. These events include professional education programs, family gatherings, and prominent buildings in several states shining in purple light to symbolize hope for a healthy start for more babies. World Prematurity Day is observed annually on November 17 to acknowledge the journeys of preterm infants and their families. It is important to raise awareness, as the evidence of preterm birth worldwide is increasing rapidly.
Other things we can do in the fight for the health of all moms and their babies include:
- Advocating by signing a petition created by the March of Dimes. It encourages lawmakers to improve the health of moms and babies by passing a comprehensive maternal health package.
- Donating to the March of Dimes — $25 provides a meal to a family with a baby in the NICU, $50 helps NICU babies build bonds with their families through programs that give parents the chance to nurture them even during a hospital stay, and $75 provides quality prenatal care to a mom at risk.
- Share your story on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram using hashtags like #PrematurityAwarenessMonth, #ItsNotFine, and #WorldPrematurityDay.
- Light it purple, wear purple in solidarity, and share pictures on social media.
- Volunteer in your community. More information can be found at Marchofdimes.org/volunteers.