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Focusing on babies

March of Dimes aims to reduce preterm labor

March of Dimes aims to reduce preterm labor

April 24, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Seven pounds and 4 1/2 ounces sounds like a healthy birthweight.

It's actually the combined birthweight of Tori Kephart and her younger twin brothers, Jonathan and Daniel.

Tori weighed 2 pounds, 4 1/2 ounces; Daniel Kephart weighed 3 pounds, 1 ounce; and Jonathan, a mere 1 pound, 15 ounces.

All three of Melissa and David Kephart's children were born prematurely, requiring them to spend time at University of Maryland Medical Center's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and having to go through an early intervention program in Chambersburg, Pa., to catch up developmentally, their mother says.

Tori is now 10, and the twins are 8. They are caught up except for Jonathan's learning disability and the boys being small for their age.

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Reducing the number of premature births is a major goal of the March of Dimes. Premature births can lead to medical complications and learning disabilities and can decrease a baby's chances of survival.

Preterm or premature labor happens when the mother goes into labor before reaching 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to the March of Dimes' Web site.

Sometimes this can be stopped using medication, says Dr. Mitesh Kothari, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Comprehensive Women's Care in Hagerstown.

Tori was born at 27 weeks and the twins were born at 31 weeks.

A normal gestation period is 40 weeks from the first day of the last menstrual period, Kothari says.

In 2003, one in eight babies in Maryland and West Virginia was born early, according to the March of Dimes' Web site. In Pennsylvania, that rate was one in nine.

Kephart, 36, of Greencastle, Pa., says she didn't face any of the environmental, lifestyle or medical risks the March of Dimes' Web site lists during her first pregnancy. Once Tori was born prematurely, that put Kephart at risk of going into premature labor for subsequent births, and multiple-baby births, such as with twins, tend to be premature.

Tori arrived early after Kephart contracted a group B strep infection. To protect the baby, the body induced labor, she says.

Kothari says the risk factors the March of Dimes lists online are loosely associated with preterm labor and births, but medical professionals cannot predict who's going to go into premature labor.

One strong indicator is past preterm deliveries, Kothari says. A woman who gave birth prematurely has about a 20 percent chance of doing so again.

To try to prevent preterm labor, women should eat a healthy diet, exercise, not smoke and have routine prenatal care, Kothari says. Through prenatal care, medical professionals could pick up signs of preterm labor or identify risk factors to help women change their lifestyles accordingly.

When Tori was born, Melissa Kephart says she was told Tori's chances of survival were not good, and Tori was taken to University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore to get specialized treatment.

"When I saw her, she was beautiful because she was my baby, but she was just skin and bones. She looked so helpless. That's the only thing that goes through your mind," Kephart says.

After 11 weeks, Tori came home with an oxygen tank that weighed more than she did and an apnea monitor that shrieked whenever she stopped breathing for too long. It shrieked often.

"Usually just touching or calling her name would bring her to a conscious state to breathe," Kephart says.

Their early births meant all three children lagged behind when it came to hitting developmental milestones.

All three attended an early intervention program provided through United Cerebral Palsy. None of the children had cerebral palsy, but the program helped them get caught up, Kephart says.

"It's astounding to have three children so premature, in dire straits at birth, that are now living a normal life. Without the (March of Dimes) research and medication, it wouldn't have been a possibility," Kephart says.

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