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posted: 12/4/2012 8:44 AM

Editorial: Necessary discussion on preterm births

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

As any parent or grandparent will tell you, the birth of a child is a truly wondrous occasion.

The fragility of a newborn life and the unknown future filled with hopes and dreams meet when the bundle of joy enters the world crying in Mother's arms.

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Wondrous indeed.

For the families of babies born prematurely, that joy is accompanied with a good measure of worry and concern. Wonder often gives way to a fight for survival and a healthy future.

Hoping to help reduce the number of preterm births, several hospitals and advocacy groups have made recommendations to state lawmakers that warrant discussion and consideration as a good first step in that effort.

The ideas include: better tracking of data to determine risk factors for premature births and best treatment options; elimination of elective early deliveries; prenatal education for Medicaid-eligible women who are at risk for preterm births; and reduction of racial and ethnic disparities in pregnancy outcomes.

"If we could raise public awareness that this is a critical health care issue and educate women about what these risk factors are so they can manage and prevent preterm births, that would go a long way," Louise Fazio, clinical manager of the NICU at Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora told the Daily Herald's Marie Wilson.

The numbers of babies born prematurely and their struggles are simply too great to ignore.

One in eight babies in Illinois is born prematurely, defined as those born before 37 completed weeks of gestation. Many weigh no more than a couple of pounds. Preemies are at high risk of developing cerebral palsy. They are more likely to die as infants, develop chronic lung disease or lose their vision or hearing.

The emotional burden on families is compounded by medical costs that on average are 10 times higher to care for a baby born prematurely than for healthy, full-term babies.

Smoking, obesity and alcohol use are among risk factors, but some premature births are unexplained, and the roles of genetics, diseases and environmental factors need more study. How can the recommendations, contained in the report by Perinatal Advisory Committee, help?

Supporters say they are an important starting point for discussions by new prematurity caucus of 12 state legislators formed by the March of Dimes and the Illinois Maternal & Child Health Coalition. They are information and public awareness steps that the March of Dimes says could lead to decreasing preterm births by 8 percent by 2014.

It would be up to lawmakers to decide whether to pursue them through legislation or regulatory changes within state government, and while they certainly have a lot on their plates these days, the new recommendations still provide a good starting point for discussion of policy issues that can safeguard the wonders of childbirth to come for thousands of families.

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