Premature birthrates declined last year in Nebraska and Iowa, a trend cheered Tuesday by March of Dimes officials and medical providers in Omaha.
The March of Dimes said 10.6 percent of Nebraska births were premature last year, down from 11.4 percent in 2010. In Iowa, 11.1 percent were premature in 2011, down from 11.6 percent the previous year.
The March of Dimes' goal in the two states and nationwide is to bring the premature birth percentage down to 9.6 by 2020. The organization gave both states a B grade.
A premature birth is one that occurs before 37 weeks of gestation. The final few weeks leading to a full term of 39 weeks are important to brain, liver and lung development. Premature babies are more likely to die or suffer feeding difficulties, vision problems and other birth defects.
Physicians also said at the press conference that elective induction of labor and elective cesarean sections before 39 weeks increasingly are discouraged by area hospitals, doctors and medical committees.
Dr. Bill Jurgensen of Alegent Creighton Health said his hospital system for five years now has discouraged those elective procedures. The Methodist Health System and the University of Nebraska Medical Center have similar policies, Jurgensen said.
Smoking, drugs and alcohol can lead to premature births, as can working in a place that exposes a woman to chemicals.
Anita Jaynes, a certified nurse midwife at UNMC, said delaying prenatal care can lead to premature births that could be averted with medications and other interventions. The March of Dimes cited lack of insurance as a key reason women don't obtain early care.
Not all premature births can be linked to a cause. Traci Cheney of Omaha gave birth after only 26 weeks to twin girls four years ago. Doctors found no reason for the premature births, Cheney said.
After many weeks in the ICU, surgeries and blood transfusions, the girls are doing well, Cheney said. She praised the March of Dimes for its emotional support and for conducting research on the topic.
Doctors said only 50 percent of premature births can be traced to a cause, such as smoking or a congenital problem.
But doctors and patients can prevent elective inductions and cesareans before 39 weeks, speakers said Tuesday. Although a baby induced at 37 or 38 weeks isn't technically premature, doctors know lung development and other maturity continue in the final weeks.
Jurgensen and others said early induction is unacceptable when it's done for reasons that aren't purely medical.
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