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Wendy Reuer, Published November 17 2010

North Dakota improves its standing on preemies

North Dakota is improving in premature birth rates, according to the March of Dimes.

The annual March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card was released today, and for the first time, North Dakota saw an improvement, going from a “D” grade in 2009 to a “C” in 2010 with a preterm birth rate of 11.1 percent.

Minnesota was once again graded a “C,” but the state’s percentage of premature births dropped from 10.4 percent to 10.0 percent in 2010.

“That means between 300 and 400 babies were spared the risk of an early birth in Minnesota,” said Danielle Prenevost, state director of communications for Minnesota March of Dimes.

March of Dimes’ grading system measures states’ premature birth rates against the nation’s 2010 goal of 7.6 percent. No state received a grade better than “C”.

“We’re actually doing very well in North Dakota. To be 16 out of 50 is quite remarkable,” said Sharon Spittler, vice president Sanford Children’s Hospital in Fargo.

The study also looks at possible factors causing premature births. In North Dakota, smoking among women increased from 18.9 percent in 2009 to 22.7 percent this year. But late preterm births decreased from 8.4 percent in 2009 to 7.9 percent.

There was no change in women with no insurance (13.6 percent) giving birth to premature babies.

“Those are areas the March of Dimes are focusing on because we feel women can empower themselves to help prevent preterm births,” said Karin Roseland, director of the North Dakota March of Dimes chapter. “They do not represent an exhaustive list of contributing factors.”

March of Dimes is partnering in Minnesota with health care professionals in a fight against inducing labor before 39 weeks for other than emergency situations.

“More and more births are being scheduled for non-medical reasons,” Prenevost said. “Those last weeks of pregnancy are vital. If you have a choice, we want people to wait until 39 or 40 weeks.”

The average pregnancy is 40 weeks.

At Sanford Health in Fargo, a policy was implemented in the past 18 months to prevent early births for non-medical reasons.

“If a baby is induced, it is because a baby has to come out, not because of convenience,” Spittler said.

Health risks of premature births can include underdeveloped lungs, inability to suck, swallow or stay warm, or jaundice.

“We’re not saying don’t induce at all. We’re just saying wait until 39 weeks,” Prenevost said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530