'Born Too Soon': A WGEM News In-Depth Report - WGEM.com: Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

'Born Too Soon': A WGEM News In-Depth Report

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A mom and dad hold their twins, who were born premature, at St. Louis Children's Hospital. A mom and dad hold their twins, who were born premature, at St. Louis Children's Hospital.
A dad takes part in Kangaroo Care, which promotes skin-to-skin contact with premature infants. A dad takes part in Kangaroo Care, which promotes skin-to-skin contact with premature infants.
A neonatologist speaks with WGEM's Jeremy Culver at St. Louis Children's Hospital. A neonatologist speaks with WGEM's Jeremy Culver at St. Louis Children's Hospital.
Devin Ryan was born at 32 weeks. Devin Ryan was born at 32 weeks.
Devin Ryan, now a playful kid, shows off some of his toys. Devin Ryan, now a playful kid, shows off some of his toys.
LA GRANGE, Mo. (WGEM) -

One in 10 babies is born too soon in the U.S., according to the March of Dimes, meaning they're born before 37 weeks. That number is down from 450,000, and while the numbers continue to dwindle, the March of Dimes says there's still work to be done.

Right here in the Tri-States, the March of Dimes has rated Illinois, Missouri and Iowa a C grade. Grades were based on how far away each state deviated from the March of Dimes goal of 8.1 percent, by subtracting 8.1 from each state's birth rate. Those scores were rounded up one decimal place and given a grade.

So what happens to preemies here in the Tri-States?

To the average person, Devin Ryan looks like your typical six-year-old. He's full of energy and excitement. But there is one thing you wouldn't know unless you ask his mom.

"He was 32 weeks," Ashli Ryan said. "So he was born eight weeks early."

It was a scary moment for first-time mother Ashli Ryan, of La Grange, Missouri. She says there was no indication Devin would be coming sooner than expected.

"Everything was normal," Ryan said. "We had no idea until the night I went in and had him. At four months, he was diagnosed with positional plagiocephaly, which is a severe flatting of the head."

To Ashli's relief, Devin was born developed enough to stay at Blessing Hospital. Blessing's OB Manager Sara Sullens says babies like Devin stay in the level two nursery for extra monitoring.

"Any babies, if they just require oxygen, IV, antibiotics or monitoring, all those babies can stay here for greater than 32 weeks," Sullens said.

But for many premature babies, that's not enough care. Those babies need a neonatal intensive care unit, but there are no such units in the immediate Tri-States. 

The babies must go out of town to places like St. Louis Children's Hospital, where Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sessions Cole says the NICU gets premature babies from all over the world who are fighting to survive.

"The good news is we have a large amount of experience in transporting critically ill babies: premature babies, babies with birth defects, babies with infections," Cole said. "We have a transport team that effectively provides a hospital between hospitals."

Cole says premature babies most often struggle with breathing once they are born.

"The lungs in babies or fetuses are the last organ to mature in the womb," Cole said.

Those babies are hooked up to machines to help them breathe. 

The chances of having a premature baby can increase if the mother is having twins or more, has a history of premature babies or was a premature baby herself. Infections in the bladder or around the womb and womb shape also add to the risk.

Dr. Cole says that doesn't mean they still fully understand it.

"I would say in about 50 - five-oh - percent of prematurely born babies we never really understand why," Cole said.

Despite advancements in technology and medicine, Cole says the chance for survival of babies born before than 17 weeks is close to zero, but dramatically improves after 12 to 17 weeks.

The March of Dimes raises awareness and education about premature births. Central Illinois Division Director Jennifer Benanti says it all starts with prenatal care.

"The single utmost thing we're seeing is that a lot of mothers that don't have that prenatal care are, unfortunately, preterm mothers as well," Benanti said.

Cole says it's very important for mothers to notice the signs of preterm labor and call their doctors if they think they are experiencing it.

"Because then, the doctors can help assess the need for medicines that will help relax the womb," Cole said.

Cole says some mothers can get another few weeks or even months with the medicine, but sometimes the body doesn't react to the medicine and the baby will still be born prematurely.

Tune in Friday morning as we talk about what officials at the St. Louis Children's Hospital do for families once they take their preterm babies home.

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