The number of Mississippi babies born early is declining, but the state continues to have the highest rate of preterm births in the nation. As MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, that can have far-reaching health effects.
The March of Dimes said this week that the national pre-term birth rate fell to its lowest point in 17 years, but it’s still a C in the group’s annual report card. Dina Ray, director of the March of Dimes Mississippi chapter, says Mississippi’s grade was even worse.
“Our report card improved, but we still have an ‘F’,” she says. “We have a 16.6% rate of prematurity [in 2013] in Mississippi, as compared to 17.1% the year before. So at least we’re trending in the right direction, but still definitely not a good place to be.”
OB/GYN Dr. Shahira Hanna, who practices in Biloxi and is a member of the Memorial Hospital at Gulfport medical staff, says there are a number of factors that may lead to a preterm birth that are beyond anyone’s control. But, she says, there are some known ways to help improve the chances of a full-term delivery, including early prenatal care, good nutrition and avoiding risky behaviors.
“Drug use, alcohol use and smoking also are known risk factors for preterm deliveries, and these continue to be big problems for us here in Mississippi,” Dr. Hanna says.
State health officer Dr. Mary Currier says the high number of preterm births has a wide-ranging impact on Mississippi.
“Preterm birth is something that affects the infant mortality rate definitely, because our largest problem with infant mortality in the state is that we have such a high rate of preterm birth,” Dr. Currier says. “But it also affects the development of these babies who are born very premature. They’re much more likely to have developmental issues and physical issues, and so it affects education and the economy of the state, essentially.”
Dr. Currier says the health department is addressing the issue by working to decrease elective early deliveries and smoking rates among women; as well as increasing the availability of a hormone that can help lower the risk of preterm births. She says the health department will ask the legislature for funding for these and other efforts to improve infant mortality next year.