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US Preterm Birth Rates Improve, But Still Poor


The March of Dimes has issued its Premature Birth Report Card, and while preterm birth rates have improved in some states, the nation as a whole still gets a poor “D” rating. Today is the 8th Annual Prematurity Awareness Day, a good time to focus on the problem of preterm births.

Preterm birth rate in the US is worse than many countries

In 2008, the preterm birth rate in the United States declined to 12.3 percent from the 2006 rate of 12.8 percent. That means more than half a million babies, or one in eight, were born before 37 weeks gestation, placing them at great risk for a lifetime of health problems. These can include respiratory disorders, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, vision and hearing loss, and feeding and digestive problems.

Being born premature is the leading cause of death in newborns, notes US Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin, adding in the news release from the March of Dimes, that “Our country has one of the highest rates of preterm birth in the world. We have to do better.”

Infants who are born prematurely typically require hospitalization, including time in intensive care. Along with posing serious health risks, preterm births cost the United States more than $26 billion per year, according to the Institute of Medicine.

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Preterm birth is a global problem. According to a comprehensive study from the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 9.6 percent of all births were preterm in 2005, which translates to about 12.9 million births. Most (85%) of these births occurred in Africa and Asia, with about half a million each in North America and Europe, and nearly a million each in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Although eight states earned a better grade on the 2010 March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card and 32 others and the District of Columbia reported improvements, the nation as a whole still gets a poor rating of “D” when measured against the Healthy People 2010 goals. The bottom line is that the United States rates poorly when it comes to preterm births, most notably when compared with most industrialized countries.

Proven ways to reduce the risk of premature birth include not smoking, preconception care, prenatal care (including instruction on proper nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle habits), avoiding multiples from fertility treatments, and avoiding unnecessary c-sections and inductions before 39 weeks of gestation.

The March of Dimes offers several programs and information for women and their loved ones to help curb the high preterm birth rates in the United States. The National Library of Medicine also provides a website with access to the latest information on preterm births.

March of Dimes
World Health Organization