Premature birth on the rise

Local nonprofits can help reduce the numbers

By Melanie Lawson - The Morning Show anchor
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ORLANDO, Fla - A normal pregnancy usually lasts 40 weeks. Babies born before 37 weeks run the risk of developmental problems including difficulty breathing, poor vision, and cerebral palsy. Now, for the first time in eight years, the number of preemie births is increasing.

Zoe Sky Rodriguez entered the world much earlier than anyone expected. Just 25 weeks.

Zoe’s mother, Natalie Rivera, confessed, “I was upset. Honestly I didn’t think she would make it.”

Zoe spent 102 days in the neonatal intensive care unit. Her parents spent hours by her side.

“One picture that resonates with me, and I remember actually, is a picture under the ultra violet lights because of her skin. I have my hand in there and she actually kind of grabbed my pinky,” shared Peter Rodriguez, Zoe’s father. 

Zoe’s family is not alone. According to the March of Dimes, for the first time in years, premature births rose nationwide in 2015 from 9% to just fewer than 10%.

Susan Bowles, DNP, a clinical nurse specialist at Winnie Palmer Hospital in Orlando, Florida, who works with preemies said experts aren’t sure why the numbers are climbing but they want to make sure women know they can reduce some risks.

Bowles advised, “First and foremost, when mom has her baby, start planning for the next one.  There should be 18 months between pregnancies.”

Baby spacing allows the mother’s body to fully recover. Also if you smoke, stop. Finally, make and keep prenatal doctor’s visits.

“I’m passionate about reducing the prematurity birthrate because for me the day that there’s not a premature baby in the NICU, is the day I retire,” Bowles confessed.

Today, Zoe is a spunky two year old who loves taking walks with her parents and baby brother, Nico, and shows no signs of her very early start in life.

The March of Dimes recently released its premature birth report card and gave the nation a “C” grade because of the increase. The organization works with prematurity research centers around the country as scientists look for the cause of preterm birth, and develop specific intervention programs.

Preterm birth rates were nearly 48 percent higher among black women compared to white women.  It's the leading cause of death of babies in the United States.  
 
Here in Jacksonville there are several resources to reduce baby deaths. Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition works to reduce infant mortality.  Call 904 -723-5422 for resources like medical care or counseling. 

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