A National Trend Hits Home in Missouri
Last year, nearly 6,500 babies weighing less than five and a half pounds were born in Missouri. That's up 230 births from the year before. Why is this a problem?
Of all infant deaths last year, 65% of those infants were born with a low birth weight. The reasons are numerous and anything but simple. One mother spoke out about her struggles to bring her babies home.
Julie Edwards can't wait to bring her new babies back home to Fulton. Meanwhile, baby Beau and baby Bryce have made a home at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Columbia Regional Hospital.
"It's just been like a roller coaster ride," Edwards says.
These low-birth weight babies have been fighting constant infections and complications in the NICU. Edwards comes to the NICU twice a day, eager to see her children and eager to get them home. She's been patiently waiting for three months, and those three months aren't cheap.
"It's a big cost to society and to the families and any insurance they might have," Neonatology MD, John Pardolos says.
"It is hard. Yeah it's hard but, you know, somehow or another, we've made it," Edwards says.
Hospitalizing a low-birth weight infant costs $38,000 more than hospitalizing a normal birth weight infant. And with 46% of all infants born in Missouri qualifying for Medicaid, the state is feeling that burden. Doctor John Pardolos says the costs can go even higher than just a stay in the NICU.
"But then you also have the costs of any medications, any IV fluids. All that stuff that gets added on to that cost, so a little 24-weeker that's here for 16 weeks is probably an easy half-million dollar baby by the time it gets out of here." Pardolos says.
So why is this happening? The three main causes of low birth weight used to be smoking during pregnancy, a lack of good prenatal care, and mothers not gaining enough weight during pregnancy. But all of those symptoms have decreased significantly since the early 60s. The low-birth weight rate began rising again nationwide with the first invitro fertilization in 1981. While the other symptoms have continued to drop.
"Since that time, there's been more and more multi-fetal births, meaning twins and triplets," Health Department Data Analysis Joe Stockbauer says. "That's a big part of this."
Stockbauer says assisted reproduction isn't the only reason for an increase in multiple births.
"There's also, at the same time, women are having children later on in their fertility range... And just that increases the odds of having twins," Stockbauer says.
This has kept the NICU full year-round. Instead of having 'busy seasons' like they used to. Edwards says this is also stressful for her family because Beau and Bryce aren't her only children.
"We come as often as we can but I have an 11-year old at home so I have his needs too," Edwards says.
Like the other families in the NICU, all Julie Edwards can do is wait for her babies to be ready to go home. And it looks like her hopes are coming true, both Beau and Bryce have been treated and released from the NICU.