Pregnancy and awaiting the birth of one’s baby is an exciting time of self-care, preparation and anticipation. For many couples, the exhilaration of the delivery surrenders to the joy and awe of meeting their newborn in person for the first time, caressing its silky soft skin and sprinkling its cheeks with butterfly kisses.
Imagine awaiting these precious moments but instead becoming engulfed in trauma, anxiety and turmoil when you go into early labor and your baby arrives early. Instead of gazing tenderly at her breastfeeding newborn, a mother tearfully reflects on the fragility of life behind the plated glass of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), her baby under close supervision and relying on monitors and machines for its breathe of life.
Premature birth (a baby born at less than 37 weeks gestation) is the leading cause of death for newborns in the U.S. In fact, about 1 in 8 babies born in the U.S. are premature – a higher rate than most developed nations. Premature birth results in low birth weight which has a severe impact on the baby’s development and can result in long-term health complications. Moreover, as a result of additional medical care needs for mother and baby such as in-hospital care and extensive length of stay, the costs of a premature baby to the health care system and society are substantial. In 2007, the average medical costs for a preterm baby were more than 10 times as high as they were for a healthy full-term baby. The costs for a healthy baby from birth to his first birthday were $4,551. For a preterm baby, the costs were $49,033.
Receiving adequate prenatal care, being informed of the risk factors of preterm labor and identifying the signs and symptoms of a premature birth is necessary for all pregnant women and their partners. Although premature birth can affect all women no matter how “prepared” they are, there are a variety of things a pregnant woman can do to better her own health and lower her risk of having a premature baby.
At MOMS Orange County, a key component of the Maternal Child Health Coordination (Home Visitation) Program is the health screenings conducted during each monthly home visit. Together with the March of Dimes, MOMS Orange County developed education focused on the risks and symptoms of premature labor. Mothers-to-be in MOMS program are screened for risks and informed about the signs and symptoms of premature labor. Furthermore, families are also educated on what immediate action they should take should they experience symptoms of premature labor. Lastly, a key element to MOMS approach is that front line staff shares the same culture and language and are able to gain the trust and confidence of clients because of the personalized relationship developed over time. This allows MOMS staff to observe families in their home on multiple occasions – which enables unique opportunities to observe for lifestyle and environmental factors that may put a woman at greater risk of premature labor and can be averted with education and intervention
As a result, only 6.5% of MOMS Orange County babies are born premature compared to 12.7% in the U.S., 10.9% in California and 9.7% in Orange County. MOMS clients’ premature birth rates are even better than the Healthy People 2010 objective of 7.6%.