48 States, D.C., Puerto Rico Have Taken The Healthy Babies Challenge

Pledge to Reduce Prematurity and Infant Mortality, Save Lives and State Funds

Austin, Texas | Thursday, September 13, 2012

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48 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have pledged their support to give more babies a healthy start in life by reducing premature birth and infant mortality, the March of Dimes and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) announced today.

The announcement was made at the ASTHO annual meeting by 2011-2012 President David Lakey, M.D., Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, who selected the Healthy Babies initiative as his ASTHO President’s Challenge last year. One goal of the President’s Challenge is decrease the country’s prematurity rates by 8 percent by 2014.

“I’m very pleased to see my colleagues at state and territorial health agencies across the country embrace this challenge,” says Dr. Lakey. “Together we are making changes that will deeply impact families by improving birth outcomes. All babies deserve a healthy beginning, and we owe it to mothers-to-be to do what we can to make that happen.”

Nearly half a million babies, just less than 12 percent, are born too soon each year. It is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifetime health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and others. Worldwide, 15 million babies are born preterm, and more than one million die each year.

“If each state meets the 8 percent challenge, it would give 40,000 more babies a healthy start in life,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “Meeting this goal would lower the nation’s preterm birth to about 11 percent, and could save about $2 billion in health care and socio-economic costs.”

In addition to the physical and emotional challenges associated with prematurity, a 2005 Institute of Medicine report found that preterm birth and associated complications had cost the United States at least $26.2 billion that year. Reducing prematurity offers Healthy Babies Challenge participants the opportunity to save lives and reduce healthcare costs in their states.

From coast to coast, and without regard to politics, health officials in these 48 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico have signed on to help more babies get a healthy start in life. Participating state health departments are partnering with the March of Dimes to address infant health needs, including helping more women quit smoking during pregnancy, promoting breastfeeding, increasing access to prenatal care, and conducting the “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait” campaign with hospitals to educate the public about the health benefits carrying a baby full term. For example:

  • Oklahoma began the Every Week Counts campaign, working with hospitals to reduce deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy. Ninety percent of hospitals now participate in the program, resulting in a 66 percent decrease in early, elective scheduled births in the program’s first year.
  • To improve access to prenatal care, the New Jersey Department of Health began the Access to Prenatal Care Initiative, providing $3 million in funding to improve early access to prenatal care services for at-risk women. Because substance abuse is another factor that contributes to premature birth, the Department provides an additional $1 million to the Maternal and Child Health Consortia to provide education and screening and referral for substance abuse, smoking and domestic violence.
  • Tennessee launched the Safe Sleep Campaign to prevent infant deaths caused by unsafe sleep practices.
  • All of Louisiana’s birthing hospitals have agreed to establish policies to end unnecessary deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy, as part of the state's Birth Outcomes Initiative. Several hospitals have seen up to a 60 percent decrease in unnecessary deliveries before 39 weeks and significant reductions in NICU admissions.
  • The Connecticut Department of Public Health has invigorated its partnership with the Connecticut March of Dimes to encourage statewide the hospital adoption of the March of Dimes Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait Initiative to stop elective inductions before 39 weeks of pregnancy.
  • In Texas, the Legislature provided $4.1 million in funding for the state’s Healthy Texas Babies initiative, in which evidence-based programs are implemented in counties with the worst birth outcomes.

“This is a cause that’s close to Dr. Lakey’s heart,” says ASTHO Executive Director Paul Jarris, MD, MBA. “He’s been a champion for infant health in his home state of Texas. He understands the challenges states face when they take this pledge and he’s experienced the rewards of seeing new programs make an impact. We at ASTHO are honored to help make his vision for healthy babies a reality."

In addition to ASTHO and the March of Dimes, many other organizations and agencies have funded and worked on programs with the common goal of improving birth outcomes. The Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs has long been a leader in the field; the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Healthy Start has been working to eliminate health disparities in child and maternal health for two decades; the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and other agencies recently launched the Strong Start program to “reduce the risk of significant complications and long-term health problems for both expectant mothers and newborns;” and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed maternal and child health as priorities in both Healthy People 2010 and Healthy People 2020.

ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, as well as the 120,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in state-based public health practice. Resources for state health agencies can be found at the website, astho.org/healthybabies. Follow ASTHO on Twitter.

About March of Dimes

March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies. We support research, lead programs and provide education and advocacy so that every baby can have the best possible start. Building on a successful 80-year legacy of impact and innovation, we empower every mom and every family.

Visit marchofdimes.org or nacersano.org for more information. Visit shareyourstory.org for comfort and support. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram and Twitter.