Premature births still a common Mid-South problem - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Premature births still a common Mid-South problem

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

During her second trimester, Emily Lawrence had a feeling that something was wrong.

She went to the hospital where she ultimately went into early labor due to preeclampsia, experiencing high blood pressure. Lawrence welcomed her daughter Charlotte into the world earlier than expected at one-pound, ten ounces.

"It's terrifying because I didn't know if she was going to make it or not," said Emily, "As a mom I had to rely on the doctors and nurses there to keep my baby alive and it was heartbreaking."

DOWNLOAD: Premature birth report card
DOWNLOAD: Premature birth report card Tennessee

Emily is one of the 12.5-percent of Tennesseans experiencing preterm delivery.

"The number is different … it's higher here to The MED because we serve a very high risk population," said Dr. Giancarlo Mari with the Regional Medical Center, also Professor and Chair of University of Tennessee Health Science Center's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Doctors typically do not know the cause of preterm labor and births, like with Emily. She said, "No family history, I led a very healthy pregnancy, I ate right, exercised, did everything I needed to do."

Genetics and other socioeconomic issues can contribute to preterm labor, according to Mari, including "Teenage pregnancy which have a higher rate of prematurity, use of cocaine," he said. He also included that mothers who do not receive proper prenatal care from an obstetrician and neonatologist are at a high risk for premature births.

The March of Dimes' progress report states there is an increase of smokers experiencing premature births from 23.7-percent to 25.2-percent.

"What we can do to prevent preterm labor is favor the education, favor the prenatal care," said Mari.

Risk factors with premature babies can be as severe as cerebral palsy to as short term and lung, eye and brain problems.

"Risks are problems with the lungs, a condition called respiratory distress syndrome and problems with the head, with the brain," said Mari, who adds premature birth is the cause of 70-percent of infant mortality cases.

For the Lawrences, their premature birth has a happy ending: They received news that they will be able to take Charlotte - now weighing four-pounds three-ounces – home after 72 days in the NICU.

"It was the best news possible; made the holidays so much better. We have so much to be thankful for," said Emily, "They said it was going to be a long journey and it has been, but they said ‘We'll do everything we can' and they have."

Mari said having an obstetrician and neonatologist help with prenatal care is crucial. If mothers have experienced a preterm birth before, Mari said doctors will often use medications for the second pregnancy to help the child reach full-term.

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