For the first time, Georgia earned a passing grade on the 2013 preterm birth report card issued by the March of Dimes. In 2012, Georgia lowered its preterm birth rate to 12.7 percent from 13.2 percent, according to the report.
Georgia’s “C” is the highest grade given to the state in the six years of March of Dimes report cards. The nation as a whole also scored a “C”.
Babies born before 37 weeks of completed pregnancy are considered preterm.
The state’s significant improvement comes after Georgia’s public health officials and the March of Dimes worked in recent years to ensure doctors made newborn health a priority when deciding whether to deliver before a pregnancy reaches full term.
For Esther Macias, scheduling a Cesarean section for her daughter Savannah was a careful decision made by her and her doctor. Macias has a heart condition and delivered her first two children prematurely because of a serious complication of pregnancy called placental abruption, she said.
She cradled Savannah in her arms Monday for what hopefully would be her last hours spent in the hospital. Born prematurely Oct. 1, Savannah has spent about a month in Children’s Hospital of Georgia’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
“They wanted to make sure she was going to be OK,” Macias, of Swainsboro, Ga., said as she was preparing to take Savannah home.
The state’s Department of Public Health reported an even lower preterm birth rate of 10.9 percent. In 2011, the state’s figure was 11.6 percent.
Department of Public Health spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said different ways of looking at the data contributed to the varying results. The March of Dimes report uses raw data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics to compile its national report, while the state analyzes its data for duplicate events and a mother’s residence, Nydam said.
Dr. Paul Browne, the director of maternal-fetal medicine at Georgia Regents University, said the passing grade represents significant improvements in the state despite funding cuts to public health.
“We started from a very low bar,” Browne said. “Little incremental improvements every year, as long as they are sustained, will get us to the goal we are looking for.”
Doctors, who often feel pressured by a mother to schedule an early delivery, need to use best judgment when deciding to deliver babies early, Browne said. Premature births can lead to health complications for babies including breathing problems and inability to feed, he said.
Browne said he’d like to see parallel improvements in maternal care. Many of the 13 counties in the East Central Health District have no obstetrics services, Browne said.