Castor Concerned About Preterm Birth Trends
May 12, 2010 -
A new report released this week showed alarming statistics that Florida’s rate of babies born prematurely is higher than the national average, a troubling trend because studies have shown correlations between preterm births and neurodevelopmental disorders. At a news conference with the March of Dimes, and then at a hearing focusing on what happens when babies are born prematurely, Congresswoman Kathy Castor highlighted today the importance of pregnant women carrying their babies to full term. At the hearing, Castor welcomed University of South Florida Dr. Charles Mahan, founder of the Lawton and Rhea Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies. Mahan testified at the hearing.
“Many premature babies grow up healthy, but sadly, many do not,” Castor said. “Some need lifelong, constant care and have health problems throughout their lives. In addition to the emotional and physical toll for the baby and parents, there is a financial toll as well.
“Although the National Center for Health Statistics reported this week that preterm births are on the decline in the United States, the rates of preterm and low birth-weight babies in Florida are higher and of great concern,” Castor continued. “Even with all the great advances in science, technology and medicine, too many babies are born prematurely.
“I am concerned about the rising rates of C-sections, particularly in Florida, which has serious implications for brain development of babies. I have heard reports that C-section rates in Dade County are as high as 50 percent. That trend must stop.
“C-sections must be performed only at the right time and for the right reason, no earlier than 39 weeks without a medical reason,” Castor said.
Roughly 12.3 percent of all births are preterm, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Although lower in 2008, the U.S. preterm birth rate remains higher than in any year from 1981 to 2002, with large differences still evident by race and Hispanic origin. Further research is necessary, Castor said, to explain the factors behind the current downturn and to develop approaches to help ensure its continued decline.
In Florida, nearly 14 percent of babies born in Florida are born preterm.
Castor said she is particularly alarmed by the number of C-sections in the United States. The cesarean rate is 32 percent nationwide, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, and 38 percent in Florida.
Castor also said women need to be empowered with the proper information to make the best medical decisions for themselves.
Last year, Castor asked Health Subcommittee Chairman Frank Pallone to convene a hearing on premature births. The hearing, held today, is titled: “Prematurity and Infant Mortality: What Happens When Babies Are Born Too Early?”
University of South Florida Dr. Charles Mahan, the founder of the Lawton and Rhea Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies, participated in the hearing at Castor’s invitation.
"In Florida, we are finding that elective inducement of labor and elective C-sections in normal women are producing an excess number of preterm babies,” Mahan said. “Because their brains are not as well developed as full-term babies, these premature babies often do not do as well from a health and development standpoint, which can lead to educational problems when they get to school."
He added: "The Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies at the University of South Florida is helping coordinate a statewide task force of physicians, nurse midwives and public health professionals who can address this serious problem."
Dr. Alan Fleischman, medical director of the March of Dimes, also testified at the hearing.
“As a neonatologist, I have seen the negative effects of prematurity all too often,” Fleischman said. “To help prevent the early births of the more than a half million babies in the U.S. each year, we must take purposeful action: invest in research, enforce quality measures, and provide women and providers with intervention tools. It will take public and private commitment, which is why the March of Dimes greatly appreciates Congresswoman Castor’s commitment to this issue.”
Congresswoman Lois Capps, a nurse from California, joined Castor today.
“It’s wrong for this country to rank behind almost all industrial countries on this issue,” Capps said. “That’s why we need more women in Congress.”
Added Congresswoman Donna Christensen of the Virgin Islands: “I appreciate that Kathy Castor is bringing even greater attention to this critically important issue – an issue around which the Congressional Black Caucus has long expressed concern. As a health equity champion and as a doctor, I want to see a significant reduction in the racial and ethnic differences in these statistics and I want to make sure this is not a procedure of convenience, but one of absolute necessity.”