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February 2007

NC Fights Prematurity with 17P

In 2005, nearly 17,000 North Carolina babies were born too early to be healthy. One of the leading causes of infant mortality and disparity across the state, preterm birth-the birth of a baby before 37 weeks gestation-often means compromised health for babies and mounting healthcare costs for the state.

In 2004, North Carolina's Medicaid program spent more than $46 million to cover healthcare costs, for the first year of life, for babies born prematurely according the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics. With a $150,000 appropriation in 2006 from the N.C. General Assembly, the medical community is working to reduce prematurity with the 17P Project, an initiative to help prevent preterm births among low-income women.

Prematurity in N.C.
Prematurity and low birthweight accounted for 20% of the state's infant deaths in 2005. Of the tens of thousands of premature babies who survive each year, many are at greater risk for health challenges, including:

  • cerebral palsy
  • breathing problems from underdeveloped lungs
  • life-threatening infections
  • respiratory distress syndrome
  • learning and developmental disabilities

How does 17P help?
17P therapy is a drug treatment that prevents preterm birth and, in doing so, gives babies a better chance at a healthier life.

Researchers know that women who have had a preterm birth are at a greater risk for a repeat preterm birth. That's where 17P can help. 17P, which stands for alpha-
hydroxyprogesterone caproate, resembles progesterone, a hormone women's bodies produce to support pregnancy. Studies show that weekly injections of 17P from 16 weeks of gestation onward can reduce the risk of a repeat preterm birth by 33%.

How safe is it?
Studies report no serious side effects for moms or babies. Some women may experience mild side effects such as soreness at the injection site, itching, bruising or swelling.

Who is eligible for the 17P project?
An estimated 5,000 North Carolina women will qualify for the project each year. Because 17P may reduce the risks of preterm births by 33%, the project estimates that some 1,666 preterm births may be prevented in our state. These women include those who:

  • have had previous preterm birth of a singleton in which labor began between 20-36 weeks gestation and medical professionals did not induce labor
  • are pregnant with only one baby
  • initiate treatment between 16-21 weeks of gestation (exceptions may apply)
  • receive Medicaid

How you can help

  • Join efforts to reduce preterm birth and improve women's health
  • Direct at-risk women to the 17P patient information brochure at Opens in new window
  • Make sure pregnant women are aware of risks for preterm births
  • Distribute the "Prevent Preterm Labor" card about the warning signs of preterm labor.
  • Encourage pregnant women to keep the card in their purses or on their refrigerators so they will always know the warning signs.

National Institute of Child Health & Human Development

UNC Center for Maternal & Infant Health,
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services,

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Last updated: March 2007


At a glance

NC Preterm Births



Of all births premature each year


Of infant deaths attributed to prematurity and low birthweight



Infant deaths from prematurity and low birthweight


Infant deaths from respiratory conditions

National cost of average hospital charge for preterm baby
National cost of average full term birth

NC State Center for Health Statistics
March of Dimes

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