March of Dimes: Prematurity Awareness Month


March of Dimes: Prematurity Awareness Month  

By Phyllis Williams-Thompson
National Manager, Prematurity Campaign Outreach
March of Dimes National Office

One in eight babies is born prematurely. Millions of these children face serious health challenges or have trouble learning in school because they were born too soon. Even the best of care can’t always spare a premature baby from lasting disabilities. And premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death in the United States. Prematurity is a complicated and difficult public health problem. Like heart disease, diabetes or cancer, it will take many years to achieve significant impact, but there has been, and will be progress along the way. The March of Dimes, as the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, is leading the way in finding solutions to the problems that threaten babies. 

Since 2003, the March of Dimes has led Prematurity Awareness Month activities in November as part of its Prematurity Campaign. The goals of the campaign are to reduce rates of premature birth in the United States and raise awareness of this very serious and costly problem. With your help, we will reach the day when all babies are born full-term and healthy – just what all moms and dads dream of! Go to the 2008 Preemies Petition and click on get the widget!

Campaign Accomplishments

The March of Dimes has been focused on prematurity for five years creating awareness for the growing problem of preterm birth. What has been accomplished since the launch of the Campaign?

Leading the Way through Investments--Research and Grants

Supporting Prematurity Research: As part of the Prematurity Campaign, the March of Dimes started awarding a new series of research grants called the Prematurity Research Initiative (PRI). The PRI grants fund promising, innovative research into the causes of prematurity. The goal is to translate research findings into actions that will help prevent early births. Since 2004, the March of Dimes has funded 34 PRI grants for a total of over $11 million. This funding has already resulted in promising discoveries.

In addition, March of Dimes chapters awarded more than $7 million in prematurity-related chapter grants in 2007, supporting programs related to disparities in preterm birth, smoking cessation, Centering Pregnancy® (group prenatal care), and other activities.

Leading the Way through Influence--Advocacy and Collaboration 

The PREEMIE Act: The March of Dimes achieved a major campaign milestone when the PREEMIE Act (P.L. 109-450) was signed into law in December 2006. By approving the measure, Congress authorized expanded research, education and services pertaining to the growing problem of premature birth. Since then, March of Dimes has advocated for increased appropriations to federal agencies for prematurity-related research.  

Surgeon General’s Conference: The PREEMIE Act set the stage for a 2008 Surgeon General’s conference to establish a public-private agenda to speed research and treatment of risk factors and causes of preterm labor and delivery. The March of Dimes is pursuing six key action items resulting from the conference.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report: The IOM report "Preterm Birth: Causes, Consequences and Prevention," released in 2006, was cosponsored by the March of Dimes and other national organizations. The report raised the importance of prematurity on the nation's research agenda, and was the key platform for the 2008 Surgeon General’s conference.

Leading the Way through Innovation—Pilots and Models with Promise

Demonstration Project in Kentucky: In 2006, the March of Dimes, the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, and the Kentucky Department for Public Health launched a prematurity prevention initiative, working with six Kentucky hospitals. The program is called Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait. This effort helps women to stop smoking and access maternal services in their communities.
CenteringPregnancy®: In August 2007, the medical journal Obstetrics & Gynecology reported the results of a randomized, controlled trial that assessed this model of group prenatal care. Women assigned to group prenatal care were less likely to have preterm births than women who received standard one-on-one prenatal care (preterm birth rates of 9.8 percent and 13.8 percent, respectively). The March of Dimes is supporting development of CenteringPregnancy in several ways, including chapter-funded local projects.

Reducing Disparities in Premature Birth: Between 2002 and 2004, the
preterm birth rate for African-Americans averaged 17.6 percent, compared to the national average of 12.3 percent. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has funded the March of Dimes to develop model programs aimed at reducing disparities in premature birth. The program has tested a range of interventions in six states. In 2007, two programs were chosen for replication: group prenatal care (CenteringPregnancy®) and inter-conception (between pregnancy) care for high-risk women. The project has worked with local health departments, community-based organizations, faith-based groups and provider organizations.

NICU Family Support Project: Having a baby born prematurely, or with other medical conditions that require newborn hospitalization, can be a frightening, confusing and overwhelming time for parents and the whole family. The March of Dimes has now partnered with 100 hospitals to provide information and comfort to those families in crisis, helping them cope during hospitalization, the transition home, and in case of newborn loss.  

For more information about the Prematurity Campaign contact Phyllis Williams-Thompson at