Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait

The last few weeks of pregnancy are really important in a baby’s development. Major organs, like the brain, lungs and liver, are still growing. Eyes and ears are developing. He’s learning to suck and swallow. At least 39 weeks of pregnancy gives a baby all the time he needs to grow before he’s born.

The March of Dimes wants babies to get at least 39 weeks of pregnancy. For pregnant women, we offer information on why getting to at least 39 weeks is so important. For professionals, we encourage participation in quality improvement initiatives aimed at preventing premature birth, including use of the toolkit Elimination of Non-medically Indicated (Elective) Deliveries Before 39 Weeks. And we invite you to participate in a collaborative initiative to eliminate preventable preterm births called Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait® (HBWW).

HBWW Background
In the past 2 decades, the United States has seen a 30 percent increase in preterm birth (before 37 completed weeks gestation), reaching an all-time high of 12.8 percent in 2006. The increase is due primarily to increases in rates of late preterm birth (34 to 36 weeks gestation). In response, the March of Dimes and the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute collaborated with the Kentucky Department for Public Health to launch an innovative, community-based preterm birth prevention initiative called Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait. Planning began in 2006, and the pilot project ran from 2007 to 2009. The success of HBWW in Kentucky has generated interest from the perinatal health community in implementing similar prematurity prevention programs, and new collaboratives have started in New Jersey and Texas.

The philosophy behind HBWW is that every effort should be made to eliminate preventable preterm births. HBWW interventions include consumer and professional education, public health interventions that augment existing public health services, and clinical interventions in prenatal and pre-/interconception periods. The goals of HBWW are:

  • To decrease preterm births by providing resources to increase knowledge about factors that cause preterm birth
  • To change the attitudes and behaviors of providers and consumers in order to impact community-specific risk factors
  • To implement strategies to prevent preterm births

Implementation manual
Key to the initiative is engaging the community through collaboration among local- and state-level clinical and public health partners. To help organizations initiate HBWW programs with the March of Dimes chapters in their areas, we’ve created HBWW: Preventing Preterm Births through Community-based Interventions: An Implementation Manual. The purpose of the HBWW manual is to provide tools and resources for program implementation in new sites.
The manual is organized around the five core components (the 5 Ps) of the HBWW model:

  1. Partnerships and collaborations
  2. Provider initiatives
  3. Patient support
  4. Public engagement
  5. Measuring progress

The March of Dimes is pleased to make the HBWW manual available to hospitals, clinicians, community agencies and departments of health in communities across the country. Interested parties are invited to download the manual and work with the March of Dimes in implementing HBWW prematurity prevention projects.

Download a free copy of the toolkit from the Prematurity Prevention Resource Center. Registration is required.

More information
If you are interested in starting an HBWW project in your community or if you’d like more information about HBWW, send an email to

Most common questions

Does the March of Dimes provide information about birth defects?

Yes. The March of Dimes produces fact sheets on several birth defects, including autism, chromosomal abnormalities, cleft lip, congenital heart defects and Down syndrome. Simply type the name of the birth defect into the search box.

What happens during a preconception checkup?

A preconception checkup can help assure that a woman is as healthy as possible before she conceives. Her provider can identify and often treat health conditions that can pose a risk in pregnancy, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or certain infections. During the visit, the woman can learn about nutrition, weight, smoking, drinking alcohol and occupational exposures that can pose pregnancy risks. The provider also can make sure a woman’s vaccinations are up to date and that any medications she takes are safe during pregnancy. The woman and her provider can discuss her health history and that of her partner and family. If the woman or her partner has a history of birth defects or preterm birth or if either has a high risk for a genetic disorder based on family history, ethnic background or age, the provider may suggest seeing a genetic counselor.

What is a birth defect?

A birth defect is an abnormality of structure, function or metabolism (body chemistry) present at birth that results in physical or intellectual disabilities or death. Thousands of different birth defects have been identified. Birth defects are the leading cause of death in the first year of life.

See also: Common birth defects

What newborn screening tests does the March of Dimes recommend?

The March of Dimes would like to see all babies in all states screened for at least 31 health conditions. Many of these health conditions can be treated if found early.

All states require newborn screening for at least 26 health conditions. Some states require screening for additional conditions – some up to 50 or more. For more information, read our article on newborn screening.

©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).