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'Preemie' births are on the rise

The birth of a child is one of the most exciting times in a parent's life. But for some parents it can become one of the scariest.

In 2006, one in 10 babies in Minnesota was born preterm or before 37 weeks of gestation.

In an average week in the U.S., about 11,660 babies are born preterm or very preterm.

The consequences of a premature birth include increased chances of disability, increased chances of lifelong respiratory problems and increased chances of vision and hearing impairments. It's also the leading cause of newborn death.

And then there is the economic cost. One premature baby costs about $51,600. In 2007, it was estimated that average medical costs for a premature birth, or "preemie," were about 10 times higher than for a healthy full-term baby.

And the trend toward premature birth is on the rise. Nationwide, premature birth rates rose 21 percent between 1990 and 2006.

Rates have also gone up right here in Douglas County. In 2001, the rate of prematurity among single births was 6.2 percent. In 2007, that rate jumped to 8.2 percent.

Nationally, premature birth rates are highest among African American women. Some of the risk factors for premature birth include a history of preterm birth, multiple births (twins, triplets, etc.), and infection. Other risk factors may be diabetes, hypertension, late or no prenatal care, smoking, drinking, or drug use.

According to Carol Meissner, supervisor at Douglas County Public Health, one of the most important things that a woman can do to reduce her chances of having a premature birth is to stop smoking.

"If we could reduce just that one factor, the amount of premature births would drop." Meissner said.

Another important measure to help decrease the chance of a premature birth is making sure that girls and women get, and stay, healthy before pregnancy even begins.

"Early prenatal care is important to having a healthy birth," said Meissner. Women need to make sure that they are seeing their health care provider early in their pregnancy, she added.

Pregnant women also should not do overly strenuous physical work and should try to limit the amount of emotional and social stress in their lives.

If a premature birth does happen, the infant is usually sent to the neo-natal intensive care unit in St. Cloud, according to Kelly Waldorf, the clinical director of the Birth Place at Douglas County Hospital.

Once the baby is discharged from the hospital, Public Health can assist the family by providing home visits and informing parents about topics like child growth and development, home safety, and general parenting support. Referrals can also be made to the school system to start Early Childhood Special Education and to other county services that can provide support for the family.

March of Dimes has set an objective to get preterm births down to 7.6 percent of live births in 2010. Minnesota Public Health wants to reduce low birth weights to no more than 5 percent of live births.

For more information on premature births, visit the March of Dimes website at