Premature Birth Awareness Month

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Knoxville (WVLT) – November is Prematurity Awareness Month.

It costs 15 times more to deliver a premature baby than a healthy, full-term baby, that's the tangible cost.

The real cost is all about long term health.

Premature babies are at higher risk of death and problems such as mental retardation, blindness, chronic lung disease and cerebral palsy.

In Tennessee, the risk is even greater.

At the UT Medical Center's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Jenna, Jersey and Jensen are receiving therapy of a different tune.

"They do respond to the classical music and we just saw that when one of the babies that' was very irritable, calmed completely down with the violin," said Kim Massey, the NICU nurse manager

UT is one place where alternative therapy is being used to treat a prevailing health problem in the state.

One in seven babies born in Tennessee is premature, compared with one in eight nationwide.

Tennessee ranks 48th in the nation for the number of premature births, ranked ahead of only Mississippi and Louisiana.

According to experts, in half those cases, there is no explanation why.

"Sometimes, we don't know all the reasons,” Massey said. “Sometimes, you can do all the right things and still have a premature baby."

Jennifer and Stephen Oxley did all the right things but still, their three bundles of joy came 12 weeks early.

"I think we had a pretty good idea,” Jennifer said. “We talked to several doctors and they said that you know, usually when you're pregnant with multiples you would deliver somewhere between 28 and 36 weeks."

Women at greatest risk for giving birth prematurely either have had a previous pre-term birth or are pregnant with more than one baby and women who have uterine or cervical abnormalities.

But other factors can include late or no pre-natal care, using illegal drugs or being obese or just overweight.

Even though premature babies are nearly 15 times more likely to die before their first birthday, Jenna, Jersey and Jensen Oxley are beating the odds.

"They're doing good gaining weight” said Stephen. “They're drinking from a bottle now, so they're doing really well."
If they continue to improve, doctors say they could go home with their proud parents as early as next week.

Like other factors that contribute to infant mortality, premature births aren't without health disparities.

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