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Methodist Dallas Medical Center Innovative Pregnancy Classes Spotlighted in March of Dimes National Prematurity Project

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Dallas South News Wire (Methodist Health System)

Dallas Division March of Dimes Executive Director Julie Whitsitt visits with a recent graduate of the Life Shines Bright Pregnancy Program and her healthy infant at the Methodist Dallas Medical Center Golden Cross Academic Clinic.

The March of Dimes presented its annual national “report card” on Nov. 17 on a day and month selected to raise awareness of high premature birth rates around the country. Its leaders joined in Dallas to spotlight an innovative pregnancy education class in partnership with Methodist Health System at Methodist Dallas Medical Center. The project has proven effective in dramatically reducing premature births among its participants and is offered through the Methodist Dallas Golden Cross Academic Clinic.

Roughly one in seven babies is born prematurely in Texas. Although the state has improved its preterm birth rate, it still received a failing grade – a “D” – in the March of Dimes report cards. Texas’ preterm birth rate has dropped to 13.3 percent. Nationally, more than half a million babies are still born premature, at a cost of $26 million across the country. Premature birth is also the leading cause of newborn death.

Discussing the prematurity report card and the innovative partnership project were: Methodist President and CEO Dr. Stephen L. Mansfield; Dallas Division March of Dimes Executive Director Julie Whitsitt; and Eulalia Gillum-Roberson, vice-chair of the Texas Region 3 March of Dimes Program Services Committee

Despite the state and national data, Methodist Dallas Medical Center stands out as the only hospital in Dallas offering a Centering Pregnancy project – the Life Shines Bright Pregnancy Program – an innovative project to combat these troubling statistics. This innovative preterm birth prevention program features a new model for prenatal care and group education for at-risk pregnant women and their families with a goal of significantly reducing premature births.

The group prenatal classes offer young mothers opportunities for education, support, and networking with other moms-to-be. As a result of the program, preterm birth rates for participants in the program have dropped to 5.6% compared to as high as 23% in the Methodist Dallas service area.

“Methodist Dallas has one of the best neonatal intensive care units (NICU) in the country, but our goal is to reduce preterm births and the need for so many infants to begin life in a NICU,” says Dr. Stephen L. Mansfield, president and CEO of Methodist Health System and chair of the 2011 March for Babies campaign, “The program targets reducing preterm birth rates in some Dallas community areas that are among the highest in the state and serves as a model for communities across Texas and the nation.”

Risk factors for premature births include lack of prenatal care, maternal smoking, and previous early deliveries. The March of Dimes national report urges states to address the number of women of child-bearing age who lack insurance, smoke, or deliver babies prior to full term. Pregnant women without insurance have less access to prenatal care and tend to seek care after the first trimester — threatening the child’s health.

The Methodist CEO explains that providing prenatal care for uninsured and at-risk mothers early in their pregnancy offers a greater chance of a healthy delivery, noting that studies show pre-term birth children are also at higher risk for continuing problems in health and development.

Dr. Mansfield has been named chair of the 2011 March for Babies Campaign in Dallas, set for April 16. In that capacity, he will lead top corporate teams across the Metroplex in raising funds for the March of Dimes to continue its mission to reduce the number of premature births.

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