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Making Sure Baby Arrives at the Right Time

'Worth the Wait' Program Addresses High Level of Preterm Births

Damali Campbell did everything an expectant mother is supposed to do: she exercised, improved her diet, and took an appropriate mix of nutrients, including folic acid, a vital supplement for gestating infants.

But despite her efforts, Campbell -- a physician at the University of Medicine and Dentistry -- still found herself on the “roller coaster ride” that many parents of preterm babies take: surgeries, long vigils at hospitals with her husband, hopes raised and dashed again.

“We experienced the elation of being told he was doing well,” said Campbell, but ultimately, her young son never came home.

Campbell, now the mother of two healthy children, was one among several speakers gathered at the Robert Treat Hotel today to kick off “Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait,” a program to prevent more preterm -- or premature -- births in Newark, especially among African-American women, who are far more likely than other moms to give birth too soon.

High preterm birth rates rarely capture headlines, but it’s a major health issue in the city, where the rate is 16.5 percent, substantially higher than the statewide average of 12.5 percent. For African-American women in Newark, the preterm birth rate was 18.6 percent in 2009 -- 66 percent higher than for non-Hispanic whites.

A coalition spearheaded by the March of Dimes and consisting of medical providers, city and state government officials and others aims to change that, said LaVerne Council, chair of the March of Dimes Board of Trustees.

“We looked at Newark and we said ‘what is going on here?’” Council said.

Newark is just the latest community to host the “Worth the Wait” initiative. The program was launched by Johnson and Johnson and the March of Dimes in Kentucky in 2007, and was later expanded to communities in Texas.

“Worth the Wait” addresses the tangle of issues that may lead to preterm births among African-American women. One cause is a lack of access to prompt medical treatment -- a large number of expectant Newark moms don’t get any medical attention at all during the first trimester. Other issues that could lead to complicated births are maternal obesity, diabetes and drug use, speakers today said.

Many hard-pressed expectant mothers also need help working their way through the system, said Theresa Rejrat of UMDNJ, one of the partners on “Worth the Wait.” UMDNJ, she said, has taken a cue from a successful program in Harlem where “navigators” are appointed to help pregnant women get the access to medical care they need, get to their appointments, and receive guidance on proper prenatal care.

Many speakers today shared their stories of preterm issues. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadango -- who said the state Department of Health and Senior Services is also partnering on the project -- told the crowd her own son, now an 18-year-old college student, “arrived in New Jersey a little too soon.”

Municipal Council President Donald Payne was born premature at Beth Israel Hospital and then, in 1998, his triplets were likewise born preterm.

“It was an arduous journey. I know a little bit about why we’re here,” said Payne, who is chairing a fundraising drive on behalf of Worth the Wait. “I feel I have an obligation to do this.”

Along with the institutions mentioned, other agencies partnering on Worth the Wait include Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, Newark Community Health Centers and the city Department of Child and Family Well Being. For more information visit marchofdimes.com.  

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