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In an average week in South Carolina, 1,118 babies are born. Far too many – an average of 219 – are born too early. Of those born prematurely, 112 are born prior to 37 weeks’ gestation, 85 are born between 34 to 36 weeks and 22 are considered very pre-term, entering the world at less than 32 weeks into the pregnancy.

World Prematurity Day is Nov. 17. It is a time to raise awareness, raise funds for research and look toward a future when these numbers are far less than they are nowlower. The March of Dimes is at the forefront of that effort.

Rachel Balck directs The March of Dimes NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) Family Support at the Greenville Health System’s Children’s Hospital. She said 50 percent of preterm babies are born early without a clear indication of why.

“It’s the No. 1 cause of death in the first year of life,” she said.

Research is ongoing to understand the causes of prematurity and find ways to reduce it.

“With the delivery of a preterm infant, there are many, many medical complications connected with that,” Balck said.

Breakthroughs are saving lives, but babies who are born early still face challenges.

“Every system is immature,” Balck said. “Nobody is really prepared to deliver early and leave their baby in the hospital for an extended period of time.”

Families face the challenges of relinquishing the caretaking duties to healthcare professionals, delaying holding and feeding their baby and more. Balck said this creates understandable anxiety and distress for families. That’s where she and NICU support volunteers come in, providing comfort to families and resources for staff. Even short stays in the NICU create stress and anxiety.

“That unpreparedness and having to leave your baby in an ICU and not be able to carry out your parental role in the way you expected can be very traumatic for families,” Balck said.

Support is critical and community help is always welcome. And for those who are expecting, it is important to know the warning signs of preterm labor.

“Trust your instincts,” Balck said. “If something doesn’t feel right, call your doctor. If you are questioning anything, call your doctor.”

The March of Dimes’ 2018 Premature Birth Report Card ranks each state’s preterm birth rate and grade based on 2017 statistics. South Carolina’s rate remains unchanged at 11.2 percent and with a grade of D. Greenville’s rate is 10.3 percent, with a grade of C. Spartanburg’s rate is 11.0 percent, with a grade of D. Learn more at www.marchofdimes.org.

Even if you do everything right, you can still experience preterm labor. Learn the symptoms at www.marchofdimes. org/complications/signs-and-symptoms

-of-preterm-labor.aspx.

Help local families by donating to the NICU Family Support program. Needs include new receiving blankets, newborn-sized onesies, Halo sleep sacks and board books. Email RBalck@marchofdimes.org.

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