The rate of babies born premature in Florida and around the nation increased in 2015 according to the recently released March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card.
Florida’s rate of premature births rose slightly from 9.9 percent in 2014 to 10 percent in 2015. The nationwide rate increased for the first time in eight years to 9.6 percent. Dr. Karen Harris, a Gainesville OB-GYN and Chair of the Maternal/Child Health Committee for the March of Dimes in Florida said there are pervasive misconceptions about prematurity and how to reduce one’s risk of a premature delivery. “People think that sometimes prematurity is just destined to happen, but we know that if women get healthy before pregnancy and optimize their health with getting their chronic medical conditions under control if they have high blood pressure and diabetes, and they’re at a great weight,” said Dr. Harris.
“One of the biggest things is the idea of birth spacing. Having a baby every year is not a good idea in terms of prematurity. It’s too much on the mother’s body. The optimal spacing to have your lowest risk of a preterm baby is about a baby every two years and that’s just not known.”
The report also highlights racial disparities in rates of premature birth. The preterm birth rate among black women in Florida is 46 percent higher than that of all other women in the state. Geographically, the March of Dimes data allows public health workers to identify specific premature birth hotspots. “We can tell you down to the street level if you live in a certain area what your baseline prematurity rate is,” said Dr. Harris. “Some of these areas have a 20% preterm birth rate. Wow! How scary. One in five births of the women who live in that neighborhood are preterm.”
13 regional teams of medical professionals, social workers and other stakeholders were launched at the March of Dimes’ Prematurity Summit in Tampa Oct. 22 to work on reducing rates of premature birth on the local level. “There are some common themes about poverty and poor access to care in these neighborhoods that certainly contribute, but it’s not the whole story,” said Dr. Harris.
“Our new initiative in Florida is really exciting because we now have empowered 13 community teams around the state to address the specific concerns in their own hotspots. What is a problem in the panhandle and northern Florida is likely not to be the same issue in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.”
Dr. Harris says babies born premature can experience related medical issues throughout their lives and March of Dimes officials also emphasize the financial cost, pointing out that premature births generate more than $26 billion annually in avoidable medical and societal costs. March of Dimes has set a goal of reducing the U.S. premature birth rate to 8.1 percent by 2020.