Colorado has one of the highest low birth weight rates in the nation. Inadequate maternal weight gain during pregnancy is the largest contributor to the number of low weight births, according to state demographer Sue Ricketts, PhD, and Karen Trierweiler with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The two were in Craig Wednesday to give their presentation, "Tipping the Scales: Weighing in on Solutions to the Low Birth Weight Problem in Colorado" to area medical professionals.
According to the state officials, the state's low birth weight rate in 1997 was 8.9 percent, with more than 5,000 babies born with a low birth weight. An estimated 5,680 low birth rate babies will be born in Colorado in 2001. The state goal for 2000-2010 is to reduce the low birth weight rate to 5.0 percent.
Major contributing factors to low birth weight in Colorado are multiple births, inadequate maternal weight gain, smoking, and premature rupture of the membranes. One out of four women gains less weight than the recommended amount, and one in five women is underweight at conception.
According to Trierweiler, low birth weight would drop one percent if women gained adequate weight during pregnancy; the rate would decrease another percent if pregnant women didn't smoke.
Trierweiler advised doctors and clinic workers to work with patients to quit smoking altogether 100 pregnant women in Routt and Moffat County smoke during pregnancy each year.
It is a challenge to get women to stop smoking during pregnancy. Smoking is an addictive behavior and most women who try to quit smoking during pregnancy start smoking again within a couple of weeks. The success rate also increases with extra counseling.
Keeping young women from starting to smoke is a proactive approach to the problem, Trierweiler said. There is significant difference in birth weight between women who say they smoke one cigarette versus not smoking at all.
The state's low birth rate could be reduced by more than one-third if all pregnant women gained weight and no women smoked during pregnancy.
According to Trierweiler, pregnant women need to understand they must gain the proper amount of weight to birth healthy. Not eating, insufficient diet and excessive exercise during pregnancy are ways women remain underweight during pregnancy. Trierweiler said it is not a cultural norm for women to gain weight, and hopes to find easy ways to help women understand they need to gain sufficient weight to ensure babies put on the weight they need.
Another factor in low birth rates the premature rupture of the membranes. The impacts of this can be reduced by ensuring that all women at risk for infections are screened and treated early in pregnancy, and by increasing pregnant women's awareness of signs and symptoms of preterm labor.
Multiple births are attributed to 20 percent of the low birth weight rate. One in five births in Colorado are multiple; the state ranks in the top ten states for twins and triplets. Trierweiler is concerned that couples who want children may not have a complete understanding of the risk factors fertility treatment may present and feels the media may not give an objective view of multiple of births. Developmental and other problems multiple babies often experience are not publicized. New fertility technology has been helpful in reducing the number of triplets in the state; 121 sets of triplets were born in 1998, compared to 66 in 1999.
"We have a lot of low birth weight babies and a whole bunch of them don't have to be there," Ricketts said.
A toll-free number, funded by tobacco settlement monies, will provide help beginning in June for people who want to quit smoking.
Lower birth weight information was presented at a meeting sponsored by the Healthy Children Initiative 2001 as part of this year's campaign to create positive change in the Yampa Valley Partners Community Indicators Report relating to children. Spearheaded by Yampa Valley Partners, the initiative partners The Memorial Hospital, the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, Colorado Northwestern Com-munity College, CSU Exten-sion Office, First Impressions and other community organizations to combine resources to address issues related to increasing awareness on ways the health of children throughout Northwestern Colorado can be improved. (Mary Morris is the Coordinator of Community Education and Public Information for Colorado Northwestern Community College-Craig.)