US Women Launch Petition Seeking Better Attention to Premature Births

by Gopalan on Oct 19 2008 5:31 PM

US women have launched a petition seeking better attention to the problem of premature births.

Mothers are casting their votes for healthy babies and asking all Americans to join them in signing the March of Dimes 2008 Petition for Preemies (premature babies). The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. Its mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

The four-point petition calls for hospital leaders to voluntarily review all cesarean-section births and inductions of labor that occur before 39 weeks gestation, in an effort to reverse America's rising preterm birth rate. The review should ensure that all c-sections and inductions meet established American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidelines regarding medical necessity of elective procedures.

In addition to the voluntary review of c-sections before 39 weeks, the 2008 Petition for Preemies also calls for:

Expanded federal support for prematurity-related research to uncover the causes of premature birth and lead not only to strategies for prevention, but also improved care and outcomes for preterm infants.

Policymakers to improve access to health coverage for women of childbearing age and to support smoking cessation programs as part of maternity care.

Businesses to create workplaces that support maternal and infant health, such as providing private areas to pump breast milk, access to flextime, and information about how to have a healthy pregnancy and childbirth.

The Petition for Preemies is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, the National Business Group on Health, and more than two dozen other maternal and infant health agencies and concerned business and quality improvement organizations.

"This petition will raise awareness of the growing crisis of preterm birth, which affects more than 530,000 babies each year," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "It is a true non-partisan vote for babies and will elevate the problem of preterm birth onto the health care agenda of our new president and Congress. We'll let legislators and regulators know how many people signed the Petition in order to help drive policy changes at the federal and state levels to solve this disturbing problem.''

"Some doctors and patients may inadvertently be scheduling inductions or c-section deliveries early because of an inaccurate assessment of the due date," said Roger C. Young, professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology and director of the Division of General Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, and a member of the March of Dimes Board of Trustees. "This is a problem because babies born even a few weeks early are at greater risk of serious problems such as respiratory distress, delayed brain development, sudden infant death, jaundice, re-hospitalization and feeding problems."

"Neonatologists and general pediatricians are very good at taking care of premature infants once they are safely delivered, but what we all want is to prevent prematurity from occurring in the first place," said Renee R. Jenkins, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "We fully support the March of Dimes petition because it makes everyone aware of the risks and consequences of an early birth and supports successful interventions."

"Two probable factors of preterm birth, cesarean sections and induced labor, are on the rise and may be among the many reasons for this concerning increase in early births," said Karen Peddicord, interim executive director of the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses. "AWHONN is pleased to support the March of Dimes petition initiative and the joint effort to resolve this serious public health issue."

"Modest investments in infant health will pay off many times over in future health and productivity," said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health. "Employers can play a pivotal role in helping their employees and dependents have the information, resources, benefits and support to have healthy, thriving families. We applaud the March of Dimes for promoting and protecting the health of all children."

The 2008 Petition for Preemies was launched at Houston Friday during the annual Volunteer Leadership Conference, a gathering of more than 600 March of Dimes volunteers and staff from across the country. Sherri Shepherd of ABC-TV's "The View," one of the volunteers, displayed a new national print public service announcement in which she declares, "My son was born 15 weeks early. I'm signing the Petition for Preemies so that other babies will be born full term."

The Petition will be followed by a March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card, which will grade the nation and the states on their preterm birth rate. The report card will be released November 12, on the 6th Annual Prematurity Awareness Day.

C-sections account for nearly all of the increase in U.S. singleton preterm births. Between 1996 and 2004, the number of preterm births increased by 59,057, and 54,405 of those were delivered by cesarean section, reflecting a cesarean-to-vaginal delivery ratio of more than 11 to 1, according to "The Relationship Between Cesarean Delivery and Gestational Age Among US Singleton Births," by Bettegowda VR. et al., published in Clinics in Perinatology, Vol. 35, 2008.

Preterm birth is a serious and costly health problem that affects 1 in 8 babies born each year in the United States and the rate of preterm birth has increased more than 20 percent since 1990. It is the leading cause of death in the first month of life. One in every eight babies is born too soon each year, Preterm birth costs the nation more than $26 billion a year, according to an Institute of Medicine report released in July 2006.

Babies who survive an early birth face the risk of serious lifelong health problems, including learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing loss and other chronic conditions such as asthma.

"My wish is for that day when no new mothers will experience the pain of going home from the hospital and leaving their babies behind," said Susan Aboulhouda, whose daughter Catharine was born 16 weeks early and spent 113 days in a newborn intensive care unit. "That's why I've signed the 2008 Petition for Preemies. This plan will help give all babies a healthy start in life." Catharine, now 6, is the 2008 National Ambassador for the March of Dimes.