The Westchester County Health Department is raising awareness that Nov. 17 is World Prematurity Day.

This year’s theme, promoted by the March of Dimes, is A Parent’s Embrace: A Powerful Therapy, which highlights the healing power of skin to skin contact between parents and premature infants.

World Prematurity Day is set aside to remember that prematurity is the leading cause of death in children under age five, and to acknowledge the risks and hardships created by premature birth. Babies who are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are at increased risk for short- and long-term health problems that may affect their heart, lung, digestive system, brain, hearing or vision.

Each year, 15 million babies, or more than one in 10 of all babies born worldwide, are born prematurely. In the United States, more than 380,000 babies are born prematurely each year. In Westchester, 765, or 9.2 percent of all infants were born prematurely in 2021, the most recent year for which figures are available.

County Executive George Latimer encourages residents to wear the color purple to show support for the March of Dimes, an organization dedicated to promoting healthy maternal and infant birth outcomes, improving access to care and eliminating racial and ethnic disparities.

Latimer said: “The youngest and smallest among us deserve a healthy start in life, and support from all of us. To show we care for premature infants and their families, and help raise awareness, we can wear a purple ribbon today.”

Health Commissioner Sherlita Amler, MD, said: “We don’t know all the reasons for premature births and we cannot always prevent them, but to reduce the risks, women should get to a healthy weight and see a healthcare provider before they become pregnant. Identify and treat any medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. It is also important to obtain prenatal care as soon as possible, avoid tobacco, alcohol, drugs and stress, and follow a healthy diet that includes prenatal vitamins.”