Premature birth is birth that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and it is the number one cause of death of babies in the United States. According to the March of Dimes, 380,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the U.S. The cause is unknown in approximately half of the cases.
Nationally, the preterm birth rate is 9.8 percent, meaning that one in 10 babies is born too soon. In West Virginia, the rate is 11.8 percent.
An average of 450 premature infants (some weighing less than 2 pounds) are admitted to the WVU Medicine Children’s NICU each year. These babies stay from a week to more than 300 days, and many require support or surgery in the first few days of life.
Babies that survive preterm birth are at risk for long-term health conditions, including cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, chronic lung disease, blindness, and hearing loss.
“Fortunately, with the excellent care these babies receive, the majority leave the NICU happy and healthy,” Mark Polak, M.D., chief of the Section of Neonatology in the WVU School of Medicine, said. “While it is our sincerest hope that all babies are born healthy and at the appropriate time, mothers and families should know that when and if they need us, we are here for them.”
To learn more about Prematurity Awareness Month, visit www.marchofdimes.org/prematurity-awareness-month.aspx. To learn more about WVU Medicine Children’s, visit WVUMedicine.org/Childrens.
WVU Medicine Children’s – currently located on the sixth floor of J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, WVU Medicine’s flagship hospital – provides maternal, infant, and pediatric care for West Virginia and the surrounding region, giving care to high-risk mothers, premature infants, and children with life-threatening conditions through adolescence to adulthood. In 2021, WVU Medicine Children’s will move into a new tower and ambulatory care center to be attached to Ruby Memorial. For more information, including ways to support the $60-million capital campaign for Children’s new home, visit wvumedicine.org/childrens.