Why Are Premie Rates So High in Tennessee?

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Knoxville (WVLT) -- Public health officials say we are battling an infant death epidemic in Tennessee.

There are areas of our state where babies die at a higher rate than they do in some third-world countries.

Volunteer TV's Medical Reporter Jessa Goddard takes a closer look at the reasons why and what needs to be done to reverse the trend.

More than 200 babies will be born prematurely in Tennessee this week.

Some are literally only a handful.

They're receiving care at U.T. Medical Center's Neonatal Intensive Care unit, where doctors and nurses are working to give them a fighting chance.

"14% of all of our babies in Tennessee are born premature, and we have way too many babies dying before their first birthday," said Mary Gaylord, U.T. Medical Center Neonatologist.

According to the March of Dimes, Tennessee ranks 48th in the nation for infant mortality.

For about half of the premature births in this state, there is no explanation.

But what health officials do know is that the problem is getting worse.

"We do know in the last 20 years, prematurity's gone up 30%. We have lots of neonatologists, we have lots of beds. We can take care of the babies themselves, but we're not taking care of the problem," said Charlene Ellis, March of Dimes Program Director.

For the other half of premature births, the causes vary.

"Part of it's the general health of our state. Tennessee ranks 42nd in women's health," said Dr. Gaylord.

Though, lack of access to prenatal care is among the primary causes of premature birth.

The health problems can last a lifetime.

Including, cerebral palsy, fluid accumulation in the brain, seizures, neurological problems and developmental delays.

"By far, the best thing that a mom can do is to plan her pregnancy, and if she doesn't plan her pregnancy, to get prenatal care just as early in her pregnancy as possible," said Dr. Gaylord.

And try to prevent her baby from being one of the 11,492 babies born in Tennessee every year to suffer the consequences of being born too soon.

Tuesday, November 13 is March of Dimes' Prematurity Awareness Day.

The organization works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality.

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