Making Georgia Healthy from the Start

April 3, 2014

About 140,000 babies are born in Georgia every year. The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) aims to make sure they all have a healthy start to life, which has a tremendous impact on the health of the community and the state.

Georgia has historically had higher rates of poor health outcomes for its citizens than other parts of the country. But I’m glad to report that we are making progress and moving in the right direction. Here are just a few examples:


The health risk: Babies who don’t spend at least 39 weeks in gestation are at greater risk for breathing problems, feeding difficulties, hearing and vision problems and learning and behavior difficulties.

Where we were: In 2009, 65 percent of all births in Georgia were early elective deliveries.

Where we are: In the first quarter of 2014, 1.19 percent of Georgia births were early elective deliveries.

How we got there: Our work with partners like the Georgia Hospital Association, the Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecological Society and the March of Dimes encouraged health care providers to eliminate unnecessary early deliveries.


The health risk: Babies born before 37 weeks are more likely to have health problems and to stay in the hospital longer after birth.

Where we were: 12.2 percent of Georgia babies were born prematurely in 2010.

Where we are: 10.9 percent were premature by the end of 2012, according to preliminary DPH data. Rates are even lower (about 6 percent) among women who participate in DPH’s Centering Pregnancy programs.

How we got there: Preterm birth rates are going down in Georgia, but we still have work to do in this area.  Programs like Centering Pregnancy and home visiting programs work with high-risk pregnant women to encourage healthy habits before a baby’s arrival.


The health rewards: Breastfeeding has many health benefits for babies, including preventing obesity, diabetes, allergies and asthma. It can also help mothers save money, lose weight gained during pregnancy, and has been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Where we were: About 55 percent of Georgia mothers began breastfeeding their babies after delivery in 2012.

Where we are: By the end of 2013, 74 percent of mothers who gave birth at hospitals participating in DPH’s 5-Star Hospital Recognition Program began breastfeeding their babies, and nearly 43 percent breastfed exclusively. More than 50 percent of new moms in these hospitals also experienced factors that encourage breastfeeding, including skin-to-skin contact with their babies, rooming in with their newborns and support from hospital staff.

How we got there: In the first year of our 5-Star Hospital Recognition Program, DPH encouraged birthing hospitals to move toward a Baby-Friendly designation, a system that encourages and supports breastfeeding for newborns.  Nine hospitals around the state participated. As the program enters its second year, DPH will offer more opportunities to encourage new mothers to breastfeed their babies. DPH is also working with local businesses to better understand what they need to become mother-friendly worksites so new moms can return to work and still continue to breastfeed their infant.


Where we are: Georgia has had one of the highest rates of maternal deaths in the country. In 2011, the state’s maternal mortality rate was 35.5 maternal deaths for every 100,000 babies born, up from a rate of 20.8 maternal deaths in 2006.

What we’re doing: With our partners, DPH has been reviewing cases of maternal deaths for the past year and is working on identifying ways to prevent these deaths. Georgia is also one of six states awarded the Every Mother Initiative grant from the Association of Maternal and  Child Health Programs (AMCHP) to move findings to action this year. We’re also working with the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) to reduce postpartum hemorrhages, the leading cause of maternal death in the U.S.


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