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March of Dimes Gives ‘F’ to W.Va. for Preterm Births

WHEELING — West Virginia recently received an “F” grade from the March of Dimes for its rate of babies born prematurely.

WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital neonatologist Dr. Poornima Murthy said the state’s actual percentage of preterm births improved slightly from last year, but not enough to improve its grade. West Virginia’s rate is 12%.

The nation’s overall grade was marked as a “C.”

Murthy said there are many factors that contribute to preterm births including high rates of obesity, hypertension and diabetes in West Virginia.

Mothers who are addicted to drugs and not caring for themselves properly also contribute to premature babies.

“It is sad. The mothers get separated from the babies and the bonding can’t happen in the ICU,” she said.

“The baby is connected to monitors and fluids and the mother can’t do much for the baby. The joy of motherhood is lost and there is a lot of stress and worry.”

Murthy said there are many social and government programs aimed at helping mothers afterward. She noted the best way to help prevent preterm babies is to educate girls about healthy lifestyles and avoiding pregnancy as a teen.

“Really you have to start at the grassroots level. Education is the key thing for everything really,” Murthy said, adding educating girls in school and in doctors’ offices would be helpful.

Youth need to learn about birth control to help prevent teen pregnancies. They also need to learn about staying away from drugs, alcohol and tobacco — as all three take a toll on the body and fetus and can cause premature births.

Murthy said the “F” grade is “not surprising” because West Virginia is first in various health categories such as obesity and diabetes.

“West Virginia is not doing so well on a number of fronts. West Virginia is ranked second-lowest for health and No.1 for obesity and cardiovascular disease,” she said.

The lack of jobs and job opportunities also is a factor that leads to preterm births.

“West Virginia’s socioeconomic status is low compared to the rest of the states,” she said. “It was doing well 25 years ago when the coal mines were functioning well. It lost jobs and its economy.”

A lack of prenatal care also is a contributor.

A full-term baby is one at least 37 weeks old. A baby being born before 37 weeks is considered preterm and at risk for various issues including with organ systems, lung infections and possible issues with their hearing, vision and speech.

The March of Dimes is an 80-year-old organization that advocates for policies for women’s and babies’ health, and supports research “to find solutions to the biggest health threats to moms and babies.” Across the country, about 30,000 babies are born preterm each month. About 2,200 premature babies are born in West Virginia each year.

Neighboring states Ohio and Pennsylvania each received a “C” grade. The only state to receive an “A” was Vermont. Other states that received an “F” were South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana.

“While we’ve seen a small improvement in preterm births and infant deaths, communities of color are still disproportionately impacted,” said March of Dimes President and CEO Stacey Stewart in a news release. “We see these same disparities trend with maternal health and are a result of a complex web of factors that are fueling this health equity gap. We know it is possible for every family to have a healthy start and we must work together to change the course of this crisis to ensure that they all do.”

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