Pregnancy : Preventing Low Birth Weight Babies

Rich Suwanski

Daviess County was among the better counties in the state with just 8.6 percent of babies born with low weight, and mothers who received adequate prenatal care were at 93 percent, according to the Community Health Needs Assessment.

Low birth weight is 5-pounds, 8-ounces or less.

However, mothers who smoked during pregnancy were at 26 percent, a number that has been growing, not decreasing.

According to health officials, babies born with a low birth weight are more likely than babies of normal weight to require specialized medical care, and often must stay in the intensive care unit.

Low birth weight is often associated with premature birth.

While there have been many medical advances enabling premature infants to survive, there is still risk of infant death or long-term disability, officials said.

The most important things an expectant mother can do to prevent prematurity and low birth weight are to take prenatal vitamins, stop smoking, stop drinking alcohol and using drugs, and most importantly, get prenatal care, officials said.

Gail Wigginton, the Green River District Health Department's Maternal and Child Health coordinator, said folic acid has prevented birth defects "for some time now."

Dr. Ruth Ann Shepherd, director of the Division of Maternal and Child Health in the Kentucky Department for Public Health, said folic acid helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spine.

"If a woman plans to become pregnant, she should start taking folic acid a month before, and then also during pregnancy," Wigginton said.

Meanwhile, women should begin prenatal care by the end of their first trimester of pregnancy, and, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, have at least 13 prenatal visits for a full-term pregnancy.

Early prenatal care allows women and their health care providers to identify and, when possible, treat or correct health problems and health-compromising behaviors that can be particularly damaging during the initial stages of fetal development.

Increasing the number of women who receive prenatal care, and who do so early in their pregnancies, can improve birth outcomes and lower health care costs by reducing the likelihood of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, officials said.

Smoking during pregnancy poses risks for both mother and fetus, according to officials. A baby born to a mother who has smoked during her pregnancy is more likely to have under-developed lungs and a lower birth weight and is more likely to be born prematurely.

It is estimated that smoking during pregnancy causes up to 10 percent of all infant deaths. Even after a baby is born, second-hand smoking can contribute to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, asthma onset and stunted growth.

"Our infant mortality is a little below the state average, which is good," Wigginton said. "So, overall, Daviess County is doing well, but we can do better."

Wigginton said education is one reason local women are performing better.

"The health department is doing a super job of getting folic acid to our patients," she said. "And we try to make sure the health department patients are receiving adequate care, especially in the first trimester."

The health department also talks to patients about eating habits, such as eating five fruits and vegetables a day, and limiting fat intake.

Rich Suwanski, 691-7315, or rsuwanski@messenger-inquirer.com

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