How March of Dimes is working to reduce Georgia's preterm births

What is the March of Dimes?

As health needs have changed over the years, the March of Dimes has adjusted its mission to meet those challenges.

Founded in 1938 by Franklin Roosevelt as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, the organization funded research for developing a polio vaccine and helped people who had polio by providing physical rehabilitation. To meet these goals, Americans were encouraged to send dimes to the White House – an amount so small that everyone, even children, could help. Truckloads of mail containing dimes (along with other coins and bills) soon began to arrive and in the first year around $268,000 was raised, jump-starting the fight against polio.

» RELATED: Georgians among winners of the 2018 March of Dimes Nurse of the Year Awards

Today's mission

Having defeated polio, March of Dimes' mission has evolved to focus on on promoting healthy pregnancies and reducing premature births.

» RELATED: March of Dimes report card shows preterm birthrate in Georgia has gotten worse

The final weeks and months of development in the womb that preterm babies miss are important, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Babies born prematurely (before the 37th week of pregnancy) are at a higher risk of having a serious disability, including breathing issues, digestive problems and bleeding in their brains. They also have a higher risk of death.

The March of Dimes, through its national organization as well as state and local chapters, works to improve the health of mothers and babies through support for families, partnerships with nurses, education initiatives, prenatal care and other services to reduce the risk of preterm births and other poor birth outcomes.

» RELATED: New blood test could predict pregnant woman's due date, premature birth risk

Where Georgia and Atlanta stand

The organization's services are important throughout the country, but Georgia's needs are higher than average. In the latest Premature Birth Report Card (2017) from the March of Dimes, Georgia's preterm birth rate rose from 11.2 percent to 11.4 percent, earning it a grade of D. For African-American women, the rate of preterm births was even higher – 13.7 percent, and March of Dimes chapters continue to work to reduce this gap, as well as other racial and ethnic disparities.

Statewide, Georgia's preterm birth rate is higher than the national average, which also increased in 2017 to 9.93 percent, up from 9.85 percent the year before.

» RELATED: Atlantans walk in annual March for Dimes events

Activities and programs

The March of Dimes has invested in many activities and programs to further its mission, including the following:

  • Influencing legislation and regulation: In Georgia, the March of Dimes helped to ensure passage of 10 legislative bills in 2018, including one that provided $2 million in state funding to implement a low-cost intervention to reduce maternal mortality.
  • Developing the NICU Family Support program: The March of Dimes recently celebrated its 10-year partnership with this program at AMC WellStar Atlanta Medical Center. It helps support families during the stressful time when their babies are in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) by providing resources and materials for family members such as grandparents and siblings. The program also educates NICU staff about supporting each other as well as babies and families.
  • Providing continuing nursing education: The organization provides nurses with a cost-effective way to earn continuing education credits. The content is evidence-based and clinically relevant.
  • Presenting Nurse of the Year awards: Exceptional nurses are honored annually by the March of Dimes.
  • Offering nursing scholarships: Local scholarships for nurses will be offered in the near future, according to Shane Salter, the March of Dimes' executive director of market development in the organization's Atlanta/North Central Georgia chapter.

Upcoming metro Atlanta events

To help raise money for the March of Dimes, join one of the organization's local walks as a fundraiser or donate money to the cause through a March for Babies event:

  • Saturday, March 30 at the Battery (800 Battery Ave. SE, Atlanta). 8 a.m. registration and 9 a.m. start. 3.1 miles.
  • Saturday, April 27 at the Suwanee Town Center Park (370 Buford Highway, Suwanee). 9 a.m. registration and 10 a.m. start. 3 miles.
  • Saturday, April 27 at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre (2200 Encore Parkway, Alpharetta). 8 a.m. registration and 9 a.m. start. 3 miles.
  • Saturday, May 4 at Historic Fourth Ward Park (680 Dallas St., NE, Atlanta). 7:30 a.m. registration and 9 a.m. start. 3.1 miles.

For more information or to join one of the events, visit March for Babies.