The Problems of Pre-Term and Low Birth Weight Babies

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thshowcase.jpgThe Beverly LaHaye Institute’s analysis of official data reveals another dimension of the problems facing children when their parents are not married. First, marriage rates have dramatically decreased — from a high of 149 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women aged 15-44 in 1970 to a low of 70 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women in 2005. Further, the percentage of pre-term and low birth weight babies continues — along with the percentage of non-marital births — to climb. Specifically, the percentage of pre-term infants has increased by more than 3 percentage points since 1981 — an increase of one-third from 9.4 percent in 1981 to 12.5 percent in 2004.

Around the world today, “children’s rights” advocates are talking about doing things “for the children.” When a politician wants to promote a policy, it is often sold (no matter how tenuous the connection) as being “for the children.” Yet, those same liberal advocates typically define “family” as any assortment of caring individuals, and the politicians have failed to support marriage through favorable tax treatment, acting as though marriage were some sort of optional luxury. Yet, there is no way to sugarcoat the fact that women who are not married are at significantly higher risk of having pre-term and low birth weight babies.

In most cases, it takes tremendous effort of doctors, nurses and hospitals to keep these little ones alive and then to address their health and breathing problems during the first year of their lives. After they are released from the hospital, these babies frequently have long-term difficulties that affect all of society — their mental, emotional and behavioral problems are documented in the medical literature. For instance, pre-term births account for nearly one-half of all congenital neurological defects such as cerebral palsy and more than two-thirds of infant deaths.

The politically correct government statisticians stress the need for education and more government programs. But higher levels of education of unmarried women produce only modest decreases in the percentage of pre-term infants. For instance, unmarried women with only 1-3 years of high school have low birth weight babies at a rate of 10.4 percent; with four years of college, the rate drops only 1 percentage point to 9.4 percent. Even among unmarried women with some graduate education, their rate does not decline to the level of married high school dropouts, the married group with the highest rates.

Clearly, the constellation of attitudes, values and behaviors that lead to marriage are important to a baby’s well-being. Yet, because of the negative correlation between education and smoking while pregnant, many experts focus on education as the solution to low birth weight infants. What they fail to point out, however, is that this negative correlation is strongest for married women; in 2002, the number of married high school dropouts 18 and older who used tobacco during pregnancy was about two out of ten (21.4 percent) as compared with only less than two out of a hundred married college graduates (1.6 percent). On the other hand, the number of unmarried high school dropouts who used tobacco during pregnancy was three out of ten (29.6 percent) but declined to about eight out of one hundred unmarried college graduates (7.7 percent) – better than four times the rate of their married counterparts.

Further, the educational level for unmarried mothers doesn’t have as much impact as marriage on reducing the rates of pre-term and low birth weight infants. In 2002, married women with only an 8th grade education or less who used tobacco during pregnancy had a rate of low birth rate babies of 13.6 percent in comparison to better educated married college graduates who did not use tobacco during their pregnancy who had less than half this rate (6.3 percent). On the other hand, unmarried women with only an 8th grade education or less that used tobacco during pregnancy had a rate of low birth weight babies of 14.9 percent in comparison to better educated unmarried college graduates who did not use tobacco who had a rate of 9.4 percent – again, nearly half the rate for their married counterparts.

Given the headway we have made in recent years in stigmatizing smoking, one might have expected that much more would be said about the high incidence of smoking and unmarried childbearing. The rate of use of tobacco by unmarried women who gave birth was almost three times that of married women who gave birth; the rate of married women who smoked and gave birth was 7.1 percent versus 20.5 percent for unmarried women who smoked and gave birth.

But in the politically correct world foisted off on us by the feminists and their liberal allies in the media, few in government have the temerity to comment about (and certainly not to advocate) marriage — so the experts, instead, push education and other government programs in hopes of persuading unmarried mothers to act responsibly and take better care of themselves during pregnancy. All the while, as noted, the percentage of non-marital births continues to climb (up to 37 percent in 2005, compared to only 5 percent in 1960) as does the percentage of pre-term and low birth weight babies. As these data plainly show, advances in science and medical technology — as marvelous as they are — have not been able to offset the effects of the growth in non-marital childbearing.

Clearly, adopting the values that lead to marriage and positive lifestyle choices gives a baby its best odds for a healthy full-term birth. Still, government experts feel free to address the problem as though only education, aimed at abstaining from smoking and avoiding alcohol consumption by the mother, was a fully potent prescription to prevent pre-term births. It seems a bit odd that they should put so much faith in this variety of abstinence when they are so quick to disparage the idea of teaching sexual abstinence.

For too long, adult desires and impulses have taken precedence over the needs of children. We must restore a spiritual vision for our nation and make decisions that address those lifestyle issues that have direct impact on children’s well-being and their future. Values shape an individual’s attitudes and actions; those in turn determine our children’s future, which is the nation’s future.

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