All the public and media talk about AOL's "distressed babies" in the last few days were more than just a distant public policy issue to my family.
It happened to us.
I did everything I was supposed to do for a healthy pregnancy. I saw my doctor regularly; took my vitamins; ate a nutritious diet. Yet, my son Aidan was born nearly 12 weeks too soon, weighing just three pounds. I had to leave the hospital without him because he was being cared for in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) for the first seven weeks of his life. My husband and I will never forget that empty feeling. I imagine that's how Deanna Fei, mom of one of those distressed babies, also felt. I read her article about her daughter for Slate.com, and I can sympathize.
I also know that it's costly to care for a preterm baby. Recently, the March of Dimes commissioned an analysis by Truven Health Analytics, Inc., on the costs of prematurity to businesses. It found that employers pay an average of 12 times more for a premature birth than for a healthy, full-term birth.
Thankfully, I was employed and had insurance to help pay for Aidan's care. We only had to cover reasonable co-pays, but I saw all the invoices and know that without insurance, it would have bankrupted us. That's why we have health insurance -- so we're covered when something catastrophic happens. But we need more investment in new ways to help prevent preterm birth from occurring at all.
Employers can play a critical role in preterm birth prevention by encouraging wellness programs and ensuring that their insurance plans include the right mix of benefits and incentives. They also can take advantage of the March of Dimes "Healthy Babies, Healthy Business" program, a free, educational worksite wellness program that provides companies with information to support employees before, during and after their pregnancy.
Aidan now is a healthy, active 6-year-old. I've chosen to tell our story because we're grateful he's thriving, and we want to support the March of Dimes, the organization that helped our family. The March of Dimes funds community programs to help women lower their risk of delivering a baby too soon. It supports research to learn the unknown causes of premature birth and identify what can be done to prevent them.
Please don't blame babies and families for the high cost of premature birth. Let's work together to spare the families of 1 in 9 babies in the United States -- nearly 450,000 every year -- the heartache as well as the financial costs to their employers.