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University of Iowa News Release


NOTE TO EDITORS: This release includes information provided by the March of Dimes.

Nov. 17, 2009

UI Health Care helps promote prematurity awareness

More than half a million babies are born prematurely in the United States each year. Preterm birth is the leading cause of death in children age 17 and younger and can lead to lifelong health problems such as breathing difficulties, cerebral palsy and developmental delays.

University of Iowa Health Care is partnering with the March of Dimes during Prematurity Awareness Month in November to promote ways to reduce prematurity.

At an event held Nov. 17 at UI Hospitals and Clinics, March of Dimes representatives and UI Health Care experts in maternal and fetal health discussed plans to improve the state of Iowa's premature birth rate. In particular, the experts talked about the need to reduce late preterm births, which occur between 34 and 36 weeks of gestation.

Babies born in the late preterm period have higher rates of death and disability than full-term babies, which are born at 39 to 40 weeks. Even infants born at 37 to 38 weeks have an increased risk for problems compared to infants born at 39 weeks. Late preterm births have increased in recent years, and part of this increase has been attributed to a rise in the number of elective deliveries (cesarean sections or inductions) before 39 weeks.

UI Health Care has a long-standing commitment to following the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines, which strongly discourage elective inductions before 39 weeks unless there is a medical reason for the procedure. This approach has essentially eliminated elective inductions for non-medical reasons prior to 39 weeks at UI Hospitals and Clinics.

"The last few weeks of pregnancy are very important to a baby's health and development, and at UI Hospitals and Clinics, we strongly agree with and follow the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommendations of waiting until at least 39 weeks of gestation before performing elective inductions or C-sections," said Kim Leslie, M.D., professor and head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the UI Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics. "This approach reduces admissions to neonatal intensive care units and improves outcomes for babies.

"We also actively encourage our colleagues around the state to adopt policies and practices that will eliminate elective deliveries before 39 completed weeks of pregnancy," she added.

Also on Nov. 17, the March of Dimes released the second annual Premature Birth Report Cards. The cards score the nation and each individual state on its premature birth rate and give recommendations for improvement. Like many states and the nation overall, the state of Iowa received a "D." No state earned an "A" and the only state to receive a "B" was Vermont.

Iowa's grade reflects the gap between the state's premature birth rate of 11.6 percent and the national "Healthy People 2010" preterm birth rate goal of 7.6 percent or less.

Although the rate of preterm birth is considered too high, Iowa is making progress toward improving two factors that contribute to premature birth. The rate of women who smoke has dropped from 23.6 percent to 20.3 percent, and the rate of late preterm birth (births between 34 to 36 weeks of gestation) has dropped from 8.4 to 8.0 percent. However, the rate of uninsured women has risen from 13.1 percent to 14.7 percent, which could limit women's access to prenatal care that can identify and manage conditions that contribute to premature birth.

In addition to the clinical expertise available at UI Hospitals and Clinics aimed at preventing prematurity, UI Health Care researchers are working in laboratories to understand what causes preterm labor in the hope of developing new treatments to prevent the problem.

Preterm birth is a serious health problem that costs the United States more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine.

To get involved in Prematurity Awareness Month or to view the Premature Birth Report Cards, visit

For more information about maternity care at UI Health Care, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Care Media Relations, 200 Hawkins Drive, Room E110 GH, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1009

MEDIA CONTACT: Jennifer Brown, 319-356-7124,