Two sets of twins, a set of triplets and three other premature babies were delivered at the Medical Center, Navicent Health, in just 24 hours.
On average, the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit cares for 45 preterm infants each day and gets 650 admissions a year, said Dr. Mitch Rodriguez, the unit’s director.
The preterm birth rate, which counts babies born before 37 weeks, is up across the country, rising from 9.63 percent in 2015 to 9.84 percent in 2016, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
The numbers in Georgia and Bibb County are higher. Georgia’s rate rose from 10.8 to 11.2 percent, and Bibb County from 13.8 to 14.4 percent, or 289 to 297 preterm births, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. The preterm birth rate relates directly to the infant mortality rate, which stands at 7.4 percent in Georgia and 11 percent in Bibb County.
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“If you go and look at the long-term picture of the infant mortality rate and prematurity, it has been coming down and we have had some success,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just in the last two years we’ve seen an increase back up to levels that we were seeing a couple years prior.”
Rodriguez said the hospital is working with the March of Dimes and other stakeholders to address the issue of infant prematurity and why it’s happening more.
“While we have a good idea of the usual factors that cause premature births, without looking at all of the state data for 2016, it is difficult to say why there is an increase in 2016 compared to previous years,” said Elise Blasingame, executive director of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia. “It does seem to be on par with national trends based on the available data, but we would still like to know what impacted this shift in Georgia.”
There are many things that can play a role in preterm births. There’s a higher risk for older mothers, women who get pregnant less than 18 months after a previous pregnancy, and when there are multiple babies as a result of in vitro fertilization, Rodriguez said.
Racial disparities exist for prematurity and infant mortality rates, Rodriguez said. In Georgia for 2016, the preterm birth rate stood at 9.7 percent for white mothers and 14 percent for black mothers, according to state data. In Bibb, the gap was 11.9 percent to 15.7 percent.
Health professionals must work to bring awareness to the issues related to prematurity, Rodriguez said. Prenatal care is emphasized once a women gets pregnant, but preconceptual care needs to play just as big a role.
That kind of care helps women of childbearing age better plan pregnancies and identify potential issues that could have an impact, such as overall health, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, medications, drug use and domestic abuse.