(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - "It's really changed everything about our lives," said South Burlington, Vt. mother Crystal DelleChiaie.
DelleChiaie was talking about pre-term birth. Her daughter Natalia, 3, came more than 15 weeks early, weighing just over one-and-a-half pounds. Natalia is happy and sharp, but does have some mobility challenges.
"The normal milestones that mothers look forward to, we achieve those much, much later," DelleChiaie said. "But we're learning."
Vermont has been working to reduce premature births. In October, Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen accepted the Franklin Delano Roosevelt award from the March of Dimes, recognizing that Vermont has the country's lowest pre-term birth rate. In the Green Mountain State, 8.4-percent of babies are born prematurely, compared to the 12-percent national average.
"Access is a lot of it," Dr. Chen said. "In many states where the prematurity rate is higher, women don't go to see doctors because they don't have insurance."
According to recent numbers from the March of Dimes, only six states have pre-term birth rates below ten percent, and half of those are in New England. New Hampshire's rate was 9.4-percent, and Maine's was 9.7-percent, according to data the March of Dimes released in 2011.
"This is great news for Vermont families," said Roger Clapp, the Vt. state director for the March of Dimes. "We really run into a number of families that have experienced premature birth and it is very traumatic in almost every case."
About half of Vermont's babies are born at the state's largest hospital, Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, obstetrician Dr. Roger Young said. Its neonatal intensive care unit had just a few tiny patients Thursday. Fletcher Allen credits Vermont's success in this area to good early pre-natal care, to women cutting smoking and obesity, and close communications between care providers, which can catch complications that can lead to prematurity.
"The Institute of Medicine has estimated that [prematurity] is a $25-billion per year problem," Dr. Young said. "Not only the immediate care of the pre-term babies, but the long-term disabilities they develop because of the prematurity."
Crystal DelleChiaie has become a volunteer fundraiser for prematurity research and education for the March of Dimes. While she told New England Cable News Natalia is perfect just the way she is, she hopes Vermont and its moms can keep striving for more full-term births.
"It can happen to you, too," DelleChiaie said.
For more information on the March of Dimes and to find your local chapter, visit this website.