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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Prematurity & Child Maltreatment

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Today is the last day of National Prematurity Awareness Month where the issue of births prior to 37 weeks gestation are highlighted. In approximately 50 percent of all premature births, there is no definite cause for spontaneous preterm labor. Sometimes infections and maternal health conditions, such as diabetes and preeclampsia, are the cause. Some women may also have elective inductions, although this practice may no longer be available due to a new DHS policy going into effect in January 2012.

The issue of premature births is highly relevant to child welfare policy, as studies have shown that premature infants have an increased risk of maltreatment (in addition to the already heightened risk associated with being young), particularly if the caregivers also exhibit certain risk factors, such as lack of education or lower socioeconomic status. The increased risk is attributed to the special health needs that premature infants often have (such as sleep monitors for apnea or feeding tubes), but also when infants' stays in the NICU are prolonged and/or when caregivers are unable to spend adequate time bonding with their infants.

Policy Solutions

As a way to address the issue of premature births, the Minnesota legislature established a task force on prematurity as part of the Omnibus Health & Human Services bill (Section 27 of Article 2). Its purpose is to "evaluate and make recommendations on methods for reducing prematurity and improving premature infant health care in the state." Similarly, there is bipartisan federal legislation currently pending called PREEMIE (Prematurity Research Expansion and Education for Mothers who deliver Infants Early) Reauthorization Act (S. 1440 and H.R. 2679), which would establish and expand research activities related to prematurity nationwide.

In Minnesota, 9.8 percent of all babies are born prematurely (compared to 12.5 percent nationwide); by reducing the number of premature births, we can thus reduce the risk of child maltreatment based on conditions of prematurity.

To learn more about prematurity, visit:

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