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Premature birth and birth injuries in Ohio

babysleeping.jpgMahoning County in Ohio has a higher rate of preterm births than the state and national averages. According to the March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card, Ohio overall is slightly above average in its rate of preterm births and was given a grade of C. Mahoning County, however, received an F.

What's going on? First, Mahoning County has been identified as the poorest county in the United States. Almost half of the residents of Youngstown, the county seat, live in neighborhoods where the poverty rate is over 40 percent. The national average in cities of similar size is 20 percent living in poor neighborhoods, according to a report from the Brookings Institution.

Second, poverty, wherever it occurs, is linked to higher rates of premature births. In part because of the significant poverty of the area, fewer women receive prenatal care. Poverty is also a significant source of stress, which can also lead to premature birth.

Why is this important? Premature birth is the leading cause of infant death. Breathing problems are a significant cause of death or injury for preterm infants. Babies born too early often do not have fully developed lungs that can expand contract properly. They may develop bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a chronic lung disease. They may also be prone to sleep apnea that results in extended pauses in breathing patterns.

Other problems common among premature infants include heart problems such as patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) and low blood pressure. PDA is an opening between two important blood vessels coming from the heart. Although it can resolve itself, PDA can also cause too much blood to flow to the heart, overwhelming it and causing heart failure. Low blood pressure can sometimes require blood transfusions that can be risky for a premature infant.

Other troubles associated with preterm birth include bleeding in the brain that can cause permanent injury, hypothermia, gastrointestinal problems, jaundice, low blood sugar and problems with the immune system. Although all these problems can often be corrected to some extent, they can also lead to permanent injuries that include:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Developmental and cognitive delays
  • Retinopathy and other vision problems
  • Increased risk of deafness
  • Behavioral problems
  • Greater risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

The city and county are taking steps to address premature birth and the problems it causes. They are conducting outreach to at-risk pregnant women, but given the persistent poverty in the area, such efforts may only scratch the surface of the problem. Health care providers in hospitals will continue to be responsible for identifying and treating the consequences of being born prematurely.

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