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Tecora Smith

East Texas moms and babies face higher risks than ever before. East Texas has one of the highest infant mortality rates in Texas, and Smith County has one of the highest infant mortality rates in East Texas. The preterm birth rate in the United States has worsened for a fourth year, from 9.63% in 2015 to 10.02% in 2018.

A premature birth happens when a baby is born before the 37th week of pregnancy. This is the largest contributor to infant-related death in the United States.

Promoting optimal health for women during childbearing years is imperative for ensuring a healthy future for our community. Babies who survive a premature birth often face complex health problems, including jaundice, breathing problems, vision loss and intellectual delays.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, premature births affected about 1 of every 10 infants born in the United States. The social and environmental factors that impact overall public health also are contributing factors to preterm births, as the March of Dimes has identified some of the environmental health factors that can affect the mother, such as inequities of health care, affordable housing, sustainable jobs, neighborhood safety, food security and available income.

Every November, the March of Dimes celebrates Prematurity Awareness Month to honor the 380,000 babies born prematurely each year in the United States. The NET Health WIC Department supports these causes by working with the Healthy Me Healthy Babies Coalition, a collective of organizations and individuals from diverse backgrounds working together to help every baby have a happy and healthy first birthday. This is accomplished by improving birth outcomes and women’s health in East Texas through community education, engagement, partnerships and advocacy.

The Healthy Me Healthy Babies Coalition organized the “Purple for Preemies in the Park,” “Purple for Preemies on the Square” and several events to increase prematurity awareness and to raise more than $6,000 toward research for the March of Dimes.

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and the Healthy Me Healthy Babies Coalition will host a kickoff luncheon on Wednesday for the 2020 March for Babies Walk. The luncheon is from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Tyler Rose Garden Center. Supporters, volunteers and business partners are welcome to attend.

Top fundraising individuals and teams for 2019 will be recognized, and speakers will include representatives from the March of Dimes as well as from local families who have gone through a preterm birth.

Community members can get involved with the Healthy Me Healthy Babies Coalition by attending monthly meetings, which are held during the lunch hour on the third Monday of every month. The public is invited to the next meeting at 11 a.m. Nov. 18 in Room 104 of the Tyler Junior College West Campus.

Every family should celebrate a happy and healthy first birthday for each child, which can be guaranteed by connecting their parents and their family members to local resources that support preconception, pregnancy and postpartum support services, so that every baby has an equitable environment to become a healthy East Texan.

If you have questions about our article, or if you have a topic or topics that you want us to cover, send us an email to ContactUs@netphd.org or call us at 903-535-0020. We are here to serve you.

Tecora Smith is director of the NET Health WIC Department.

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