Legislatively Speaking – November is Prematurity Awareness Month

By Senator, Lena C. Taylor

State Senator Lena C. Taylor

I have the opportunity to speak at the Prematurity Maturity month summit at the Lovell Johnson Quality of Life Center. This year’s summit titled Breaking the Cycle, a Community’s Response to Premature Births is focused on bringing together the Milwaukee community in order to address the issues of premature birth and infant death.

Premature birth (or preterm birth) occurs when the baby is born 3 or more weeks before his or her due date. One out of every eight babies is born premature, and yet knowledge of the problem and public awareness is far too low. In addition to being the number one killer of newborns, health complications following birth include intellectual disabilities, Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Bronchopulmonary Disease, Apnea, and Retinopathy of Prematurity.

There are many medical factors that effect expecting mothers. They can increase the risk of delivering prematurely. Health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, unusual bleeding, weight (either too low or too high) can be serious. African American women, women younger than 17 and women older than 35 are somewhat more likely to deliver prematurely. Lifestyle factors will also play a crucial role in cultivating a healthy environment for the baby to grow in.

Smoking, drinking alcohol, domestic violence and even stress all increase the risks.

Preterm birth and all the risks and dangers that are associated with it must be taken especially seriously here in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that between 2005 and 2008 the black infant mortality rate was 15.7 per 1,000 births, a huge jump from the 6.4 for white infants.

The negative health impacts of preterm birth affect minorities and poor women at higher rates. Financial costs can be devastating. The March of Dimes estimates that a normal delivery costs approximately $3,325, while a preterm birth can cost as much as $51,600.

The University of Wisconsin plays an active role in improving access to helpful programs. The Nurse Family Partnership is a non-profit initiative that connects mothers with nurses. The Nurse Home Visitor works with pregnant women to develop healthy lifestyle habits, cultivate strong parenting skills and a safer home environment.

The program has been able to help many women in the Milwaukee area, but lacks the money to reach all at risk or underprivileged mothers. The University has also collaborated with the Wisconsin Partnership Program to establish the Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families, whose goals include developing support groups for pregnant women and new parents, improving prenatal care, and building family involvement.

Other programs around Milwaukee include “Stork’s Nest,” which aims to help women begin to care for themselves and baby before the child is born. This includes prenatal care in the mother’s first trimester, providing incentives to earn baby supplies, and establishing routine medical and social service appointments.

The Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin has established the Milwaukee Healthy Beginnings Project in an effort to reach out to women, focusing on African American and Latino women, and aims to provide prenatal care, increase public awareness, and involve the community.

It is important to take the time to consider the issue and continue to develop programs to combat this terrible issue. We need to help healthy babies and women in Milwaukee. We have to be proactive. We to do more to support mothers and children both.