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Old May 26th, 2007, 02:36 PM  
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Lightbulb Doctors puzzle over Alberta's low birthweights

EDMONTON -- By all measures, Alberta Telfer was the picture of a healthy expectant mom.

Fit and trim, doesn't smoke or drink, eats nutritious food -- and, at 26, she's at a prime age to give birth.

So why did Telfer have a complication that forced her to have an emergency caesarean section 33 weeks into her pregnancy, seven weeks early?

"I have no idea," Telfer said, sitting a few steps away from the incubator in a hospital room where her tiny newborn Una slept peacefully.

When she gave birth to the three-pound preemie, the federal government worker became part of a puzzling trend in the province that is worrying doctors.

Despite the province's wealth, women in Alberta give birth to low-weight babies more often than do mothers across Canada.

So many babies are born underweight in Alberta that a panel of 14 medical experts held a conference this week in Calgary to recommend the province strike a ministerial task force to tackle the problem.

"Low birth weight constitutes an important public health issue that demands urgent attention in Canada, and particularly in Alberta," said a statement from the panel.

The provincial rate of low birth weight babies is 6.6 per cent of live births, compared to the national average of 5.9. Nobody knows for sure why the trend in Alberta is so high - or why it's rising.

Babies born under 2,500 grams -- about 5 1/2 pounds -- face a higher risk of health problems or even death.

"We do need to do a better job of trying to track that and gain a bit more knowledge about some of those issues," said panel member Rhada Chari, director of maternal/fetal medicine at the University of Alberta.

While risk factors like smoking, drinking and living in a poor neighbourhood are associated with low birthweight, none of them has been found conclusively to be a direct cause.

The conference statement points to the increasing age of mothers having babies, assisted reproductive technologies, increased multiple births and obstetric interventions as factors in a recent increase in pre-term births.
The panel called on governments to pass laws banning the implanting of multiple embryos. Multiple births are often a factor in low birth weights.

The panel also called for a total ban on smoking in public places and workplaces, more education on life skills and health in elementary schools, more public money for pregnancy-related work leave and for community-based services to improve the health of women in their child-bearing years.
Edmonton Journal

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