By Briana Vannozzi
Fifteen-month-old Joey Groves and twin cousins Jailynn and Becca Mallon are happy, healthy babies. But when they were born prematurely, and put in the NICU at just 34 weeks, moms Dana and Nicole couldn’t picture getting to this day.
“Having to leave them every day was the hardest, it was an emotional roller coaster. You’re walking out bawling your eyes out sometimes,” Dana Groves said.
They’re part of a growing coalition in New Jersey raising awareness and funds for the March of Dimes Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait Program. It aims to reduce preventable preterm births with programs in Newark and Virtua Voorhees.
“Preterm birth rates have been going up consistently in the U.S. for 30 years and since 2012 they’ve been coming down,” said Laurie Navin of the March of Dimes.
Most of the causes for preterm birth are still unknown, but the campaign educates new moms on the ones that are.
“Things such as uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure, a woman having a previous preterm birth, obesity,” Navin said.
Smoking is another big factor. For cousins Nicole and Dana, it was preeclampsia, which means high blood pressure and levels of protein, typically out of a mother’s control. But having resources at their fingertips ensured a healthy future for the kids.
“They’re doing great, talking and meeting all their goals milestones and everything, not missing a beat,” said Nicole Mallon.
“We’re right at the national level of preterm births. New Jersey is 9.6 percent so almost one in every 10 babies in New Jersey is born too soon,” Navin said.
Navin is with New Jersey’s March of Dimes chapter. She says there’s a racial disparity at play too.
“African-American women have about twice the risk of having a preterm infant as the rest of the population so we’ve been trying to reduce that disparity,” she said.
The best way to prevent it? Get early prenatal care with each pregnancy.
“To have your doctor look at your risk history to control diabetes, high blood pressure, your weight. Those kinds of things will really make a difference. Other things that we find are birth spacing. Eighteen months between pregnancies reduces the risk of that second child being born preterm,” Navin said.
The U.S. has higher rates of preterm births compared to other developed countries. Doctors aren’t sure why but believe it could have something to do with stress in our culture. The Mallon/Groves families want to make sure every baby has a chance to thrive like theirs.
“There’s so many more resources that are going to be out there in the future. I want to help with that and I want to help with research and maybe the next baby doesn’t have to stay in there as long,” Mallon said.
Voorhees is the 32nd location throughout the country as March of Dimes rolls out the Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait program. The goal is to reduce preterm birth rates to 5.5 percent by 2020.