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More LA County babies are being born full-term, normal weight

A newborn baby sleeps.
Photo by Quan Ha via Flickr Creative Commons
A newborn baby sleeps.

The percentage of Los Angeles County infants born full-term and at normal weight improved across all regions of the county and among all ethnic groups between 2007 and 2012, according to new research from USC.

Countywide, a bit more than half of babies – about 54 percent – were delivered at full term (in the 39th or 40th week) and normal weight (between 5.5 and 8.8 pounds) in 2012, the latest year for which data is available. That's up about 15 percent from 2007, when roughly 48 percent of babies were born full-term and at normal weight, according to the study by the Children's Data Network at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

The findings indicate public health strategies designed to decrease preterm births are working, says Jacquelyn McCroskey, co-director of the Children's Data Network. Those include reducing smoking among pregnant women; reducing elective births - either by induction or Cesarean section - before 39 weeks; and encouraging women to space births apart by at least 18 months.

First 5 LA, the March of Dimes and other groups have been working with providers and community members to spread these messages, she says.

The report's authors predict the improvements in birth weight have continued since 2012, given the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which requires all health plans to cover maternity care and childbirth, and other local initiatives.

Despite the improvements, there are still disparities in full-term births depending on a family's race and address. Filipina and African-American women had the lowest percentages of full-term, normal weight babies in 2012, at about 49 and 50 percent respectively, while Japanese and Korean women had the highest percentages, at about 58 and 59 percent, respectively.

Barbara Dubransky, director of family supports at First 5 LA, says this data underscores the fact that black women need more access to prenatal care and strong social support.

"This is a population of women that we need to make sure are supported socially and structurally, before they even have children, before they're pregnant," she says.

Geographically, the largest improvements were in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, where full-term births increased by about 17 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

Babies who reach full-term have time to fully develop, especially their lungs, brain and liver, according to the Children's Data Network. Infants born too early or too small are at increased risk of serious long-term health problems. Preterm birth and low birth weight are the leading causes of infant death in the county, according to USC.