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Reducing the risk of prematurity through education and treatment

Mom feeds her preemie son at Akron Children's special care nursery at its Beeghly campus.

You may know that November is National Prematurity Awareness Month—so what better time to make note of the efforts of Akron Children’s Hospital?

The majority of preterm (before 37 weeks gestation) babies survive, and while many do well, some develop significant long-term disabilities. In fact, preterm birth is the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States.

In Summit County, 47 percent of infant deaths from 2000-2009 were attributable to preterm birth.

One key treatment is progesterone, a hormone that has been clinically shown to reduce the risk of preterm birth by as much as 35 to 45 percent for moms who are at risk. Progesterone is a common, inexpensive treatment that poses no harmful side effects to babies and minimal risk to mothers.

Through its Health Care Innovation Award, Akron Children’s has established a Prematurity Prevention Program focusing on progesterone to address the problem of preterm births in the Summit County region.

“Our aim is to assist in identifying at-risk patients so we can increase treatment with a goal of decreasing the preterm birth rate by 10 percent over the course of the project,” said Robin Naples, prematurity initiatives coordinator at Akron Children’s.  “Our focus is on education and promotion throughout Summit County.”

preemieAkron Children’s plans to increase awareness and use of progesterone by developing materials, educating mothers, and working with healthcare providers throughout Summit County.

Naples said the hospital is also working with providers and mothers to address challenges that prevent at-risk mothers from receiving timely and appropriate progesterone treatment.

Two key risk factors for preterm birth include a previous preterm birth and a short cervix, both of which can be treated with progesterone.

The Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine and American Congress of OB/GYN state that women with prior preterm births should receive progesterone. In addition, both organizations recommend universal cervical length screening to identify women with short cervices who also may benefit from progesterone.

Since February 2013, Akron Children’s has been interviewing mothers with preterm babies at 4 of the hospital’s neonatal intensive care units to gather baseline data and identify regional trends. The NICUs are located at Akron Children’s Hospital, Akron General Medical Center, Summa Akron City Hospital and St. Elizabeth Health Center.

“Through all of these efforts, and by working together with providers and community resources, we can help change the numbers and create better outcomes for these babies and mothers,” Naples said.