South Carolina has improved its preterm birth rate, but still gets a low grade from the March of Dimes.
South Carolina’s premature birth rate dropped slightly to 14.1 percent in 2011, but the rate of babies born too soon — before their lungs, brains and other organs are fully developed — was still too far from the March of Dimes’ 2020 goal of 9.6 percent.
The state consequently earned its second consecutive “D” on the March of Dimes’ latest Premature Birth Report Card.
According to the most recent 2011 data, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reports that Orangeburg County’s preterm birth rate stood at 9.9 percent, up from 8.8 percent in 2009.
The preterm birth rate in Calhoun County stood at 8 percent, down from 9.4 percent two years ago. Bamberg County’s rate was 7.3 percent, down from 9.1 percent two years ago.
DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley said it is important to note, however, that the report’s preterm birth rates are calculated differently than the way DHEC calculates its rates.
“Gestation age can be estimated in two different ways from birth certificate data. One method is based on the start date of the mother’s last normal menses. Unfortunately, this calculation relies heavily on the mother’s recall and is sometimes omitted from the birth certificate,” Beasley said.
The state derives a gestation age based on clinical/obstetric observations by a trained health care worker, he said. “We feel it presents a more accurate depiction of the data.”
Premature birth is the number one cause of death in newborns in the United States. Orangeburg-based Low Country Healthy Start has been championing the issue, along with infant mortality, in Allendale, Bamberg, Hampton and Orangeburg counties since 1997.
LCHS Program Director Virginia Berry White said there are many factors that contribute to preterm birth among females in the area.
“Health conditions that impact prematurity include diabetes, hypertension and infections. Many women in Orangeburg County are unhealthy,” White said.
Increasing women’s access to health care is essential, she said.
“Women need a health care home where they can be treated for chronic conditions before, during and after pregnancy,” White said.
She said smoking and alcohol and drug use are also factors which contribute to preterm birth.
“What is also important is women having health insurance. Women who are uninsured often delay getting the care they need, including having the pregnancy confirmed and starting prenatal care. Getting prenatal care early is essential so risks can be identified and treated,” White said. “Medicaid is a good insurance for women who have no other means to pay for care.”
White said consistent messages need to be provided about signs of preterm labor and what women should do, particularly since women who have had a previous premature birth are at highest risk for another.
Women who become pregnant within 18 months of their first premature birth or low-birth-weight baby, rather than the recommended two-year waiting period, are at risk for premature birth.
With a rate of 11.7 percent of babies being born too soon, the United States received a grade of “C” from the March of Dimes. With 1 in 8 babies born prematurely, the March of Dimes reports that the nation’s rate is higher than that of most developed nations.
“Education on reproductive health, including pregnancy spacing, is important. Black women are more likely to have a preterm birth than white women; therefore, black women need to seek prenatal care early. Research is being done to see why this group is affected the most,” White said.
The March of Dimes reports that half a million babies are born preterm each year, costing the United States more than $26 billion annually.
The 2012 Premature Birth Report Card listed uninsured women, women smoking and unnecessary cesarean sections and inductions before 39 weeks gestation among the factors contributing to preterm birth.
In South Carolina, the rate of women smoking is 26.2 percent, up from the previous rate of 20.7 percent as indicated on last year’s report card. The rate of uninsured women increased from 24 percent to 26.2 percent, while the rate of late preterm births decreased from 10 percent to 9.5 percent.
White said the LCHS has education, outreach and case management services designed to help women get the care they need, including reducing their stress levels.
“We work directly with obstetric providers to reinforce instructions on signs and symptoms of preterm labor ... and also reinforce the provider’s treatment plan. ... LCHS helps women develop a reproductive life plan which helps in delaying pregnancy until they are healthy and ready enough to have a healthy baby,” she said.
The March of Dimes 2012 Premature Report Card can be viewed online at marchofdimes.com/reportcard. The state chapter of the March of Dimes can also be reached by phone at 803-252-5200.
Contact the writer: email@example.com and 803-533-5534.