November Marks Prematurity Awareness Month

November Marks  Prematurity Awareness Month by Kristy Brannen

Nebraska got its annual report card for the number of premature births and once again it wasn’t a passing grade. In 2010 and 2009 the state received a D. The good news is the March of Dimes is working to improve that grade.

November has been designated Prematurity Awareness Month and March of Dimes chapters across the country will use it to educate the general public through media conferences and educational events. “Locally, we host a prematurity summit on November 10th at the Embassy Suites in LaVista, which will feature internationally renowned specialists,” said Rosemary Opbroek, Nebraska State Director for The March of Dimes. The summit will conclude with an Excellence in Nursing Awards Dinner to honor Nebraska nurses who excel in their fields. The organization also plans to have displays in hospitals across Nebraska highlighting the progress that has been made in the fight against premature birth.

Brian and Heidi Schnieder, an ambassador family for the organization, know firsthand how important the March of Dimes mission is.  Their now 6-year-old son was born at 25 weeks, weighing just a little over one pound. “That was our indoctrination into The March of Dimes,” said Brian Schnieder. “It has been near and dear to our hearts ever since.”

What people don’t know

What many people don’t know is that premature birth is a crisis in the United Sates. “The rate of prematurity in America has risen by 25 percent over the past two decades,” Opbroek said. “In 2003, the March of Dimes established a nationwide prematurity campaign in an effort to stem that rise and decrease rates.” According to Opbroek, half of the premature births are preventable and can be addressed through education.

“Many people believe that delivering the baby two or three weeks early is OK,” she said. “Once we show them how much the baby’s brain and organs develop during those final weeks they are much less inclined to induce early,”

The other half are not preventable, Opbroek said.  Mom does everything right, but the baby still comes early,” she said. “We address that issue through research.” Since 2003 the organization has used research findings to educate the public how to have a healthy pregnancy.

Finding the answer

In the Schnieders’ case, it was determined through testing that Heidi had a genetic condition that only impacted her when she is pregnant. “There was a 100 percent guarantee that we would have the same problems or worse in future pregnancies without close monitoring and preventative treatments,” Schnieder said. Armed with that knowledge, the couple was excited and very anxious to announce they were expecting their second child, Madelyn, who is now 18-months old.

According to Schnieder, the couple worked very closely with The March of Dimes and physicians to determine what could be done to prevent their second child from being born as early as Jackson. “We knew of the prevention side of the March of Dimes mission all along, but it was with our second pregnancy that we were touched by this part of its mission,” Schnieder said. “Through testing it was discovered what had happened to cause Jackson’s early arrival and through regular close monitoring and medications, we were able to carry Madelyn to 35 weeks.”

Throughout the second pregnancy Heidi saw specialists almost every week and towards the end of the pregnancy her visits increased. She was on one week of bed rest prior to Madelyn’s birth and Madelyn spent mere hours in the NICU compared to Jackson’s 109-day stay. Needless to say, this was a victory for the family.

Non-medical inductions

The organization also has addressed the issue of non-medically indicated preterm induction. “Research indicates that induction prior to 39 weeks is dangerous and should be avoided unless there are some other serious medical reasons”, Opbroek said. In those cases, it might be safer to deliver the baby earlier.

“Educating doctors on the importance of delivering full-term is an ongoing battle for the organization, but one it is dedicated to winning. We are committed to holding doctors accountable when they routinely deliver prior to 39 weeks without medical reason”, she said.

In their efforts in this area, the March of Dimes established the 39 Week Collaborative, which consists of medical professionals from all five Omaha health systems. “They are establishing an oversight committee that will address situations of non-medically indicated induction prior to 39 weeks,” Opbroek said.

There to help

As an ambassador family, the Schnieders not only serve on several committees and actively participate in fundraising events, but they also are spokespeople for the organization and are NICU parent volunteers. “We try to bring the mission of March of Dimes to those touched by prematurity, to those who are expecting and trying to prevent prematurity and to the public for awareness, support and funding to help,” Schnieder said.  The couple hopes to bring awareness to the struggles that too many parents are facing by educating people on the organization’s preventative efforts.

“We have been so blessed by the prevention and mission of efforts of those before us,” he said. “We are blessed to have two wonderful, healthy children, the support of so many, and the ability to be able to go out to reach out to others and try to spread the work and mission of March of Dimes. We want the March of Dimes mission to grow and become so successful that no other parent will have to endure what we did with a child born so early and so fragile.”