Spotlight on Women's Health

Interview on Prematurity: Beverly Robertson

November 02, 2011

Did you know that today 1,400 babies will be born too early? What causes babies to be born early? How does prematurity affect babies and their families? Join us in observing Prematurity Awareness month as we discuss common question about prematurity with Beverly Robertson from the March of Dimes.

Beverly Robertson serves as the National Director of the Pregnancy & Newborn Health Education Center at the March of Dimes. She holds advanced degrees in library science from Rutgers University and history and archival science from New York University. She has dedicated her career to non-profit management and consumer education. She has a passion for using social media to connect with pregnant women and new mothers. She writes the March of Dimes blog News Moms Need and promotes awareness of healthy pregnancy and birth. In her spare time she enjoys bird watching, hiking, and reading.

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November marks World Prematurity Awareness Month. What are some of the problems that premature babies face?

Not all premature babies have problems, but some, however, face very serious complications. These include: respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), a breathing problem; bleeding in the brain (IVH); patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), which is a heart problem; necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which is a intestinal problem; and retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which is an eye problem. Some of these are more common in babies born before 32-34 weeks. Some babies face long hospital stays.

Is prematurity a big problem in this country?

Today and every day, more than 1,400 babies in the United States will be born too soon. That is more than half a million babies every year in the United States alone. Worldwide the number is closer to 13 million. It is 1 in 8. 1 in 8. Think about it. Do you know a baby that was born too soon? I bet you do.

Are some women more likely to have a premature baby?

It is very difficult to predict which women will deliver prematurely. In nearly fifty percent of premature births the cause is unknown. But having said that, yes, there are three groups of women at higher risk of preterm labor and birth: those who have had a prior preterm birth, those you are pregnant with twins, triplets or more, and those with certain uterine or cervical abnormalities. Additionally, studies suggest that there may be four routes leading to spontaneous premature labor: infections, maternal or fetal stress, bleeding, and stretching. And, women who smoke are more likely to have a preterm delivery, particularly one before 32 weeks of gestation.

Can treatment prevent pre-term birth?

Over the years doctors have tried various strategies to help prevent premature delivery; none of them have been routinely effective. There are several treatments though that have been proven helpful for some women: Progesterone, sometimes called 17P, and cerclage, a stitch in the cervix to help keep it closed. We encourage pregnant women to talk with their providers about these interventions.

One of the biggest ways to prevent preterm birth is to know the signs and symptoms. Knowing what to look for is essential.

The March of Dimes is leading the fight for answers. And, ultimately, preventions.

Last year you worked with Bloggers Unite to increase awareness of World Prematurity Day. How can people support World Prematurity Day this year?

Last year, the Fight for Preemies event was a tremendous success with over 350 bloggers raising their voices to help spread awareness about premature birth. This year we have raised the bar and gone global. Will you join us?

The March of Dimes has partnered with the European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants (EFCNI), Africa-based Little Big Souls International Foundation and the National Preemie Foundation in Australia to harness the power of social media. There are many options for folks to help.

  • Support World Prematurity Day on Facebook by liking the campaign, changing your status to reflect a prematurity message, or posting your preemie story on the wall.
  • If you are a blogger, join World Prematurity Day on Bloggers Unite. There are even badges!
  • Participate in one of the #preemiechats on Twitter. Follow @marchofdimes.
  • Visit MarchOfDimes.com/Prematurity to learn more about the problem and our efforts to defeat the problem.
  • Use your networks to spread the word – post personal stories or facts about premature birth in your social spaces during November.
  • Become an eAdvocate, get informed and take action. Thirty-nine seconds: that's all it takes to help reduce premature birth.

What support is available for parents who have babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)?

In conjunction with the Prematurity Campaign, the March of Dimes has developed NICU Family Support. Available in over 100 hospitals, it provides information and comfort for families in crisis by addressing not only the needs of parents, but siblings, grandparents and the extended family throughout the hospitalization, transition to home, and in the event of a loss. Varying by hospital, the activities include parent-to-parent support, sensitive educational material, and customized programs that serve the specific needs of each NICU and the population it supports.

Share Your Story is an online community and a caring place where NICU families can connect with each other and share their stories.