Lowest Preterm Birth Rate In 15 Years
November 1, 2013

March Of Dimes Reports Lowest Preterm Birth Rate in 15 Years

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The United States was given an average score of ‘C’ in the new March of Dimes 2013 Premature Birth Report Card, meeting the organization’s target of 9.6 percent and hitting a 15-year low.

In the annual report, the March of Dimes ranked each state individually on its pre-term birth rate. With a few exceptions, northern states tended to score higher on the report card than their southern counterparts.

"Although we have made great progress in reducing our nation's preterm birth rate from historic highs, the US still has the highest rate of preterm birth of any industrialized country. We must continue to invest in preterm birth prevention because every baby deserves a healthy start in life," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "A premature birth costs businesses about 12 times as much as uncomplicated healthy birth. As a result, premature birth is a major driver of health insurance costs not only for employers.”

According to the organization, nearly 180,000 fewer babies have been born too soon since 2006, as of 2012, potentially saving about $9 billion in overall costs.

The report said the 2012 preterm birth rate for non-Hispanic black infants is still the highest of all the ethnic groups at just over 16 percent. This score, however, is down from more than 18 percent in 2006 and is the lowest in over 20 years. While the difference between the rates for blacks and whites has been shrinking, the preterm birth rate among non-Hispanic blacks is still greater than 1.5 times the rate of non-Hispanic whites.

Considered to be a birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy, a preterm birth is the leading cause of newborn death. Babies who survive often face a greater risk of serious, lasting health problems, such as breathing problems, jaundice, developmental delays and cerebral palsy. While babies born a few weeks too soon have a much higher mortality rate, infants born at 37 or 38 weeks of pregnancy have a greater risk for health problems than children born at 39 weeks.

The organization reported 31 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico saw improvement in their preterm birth rates between 2011 and 2012. The organization highlighted California's success in particular because of its size, racially diverse population, and a mix of urban, suburban and rural communities with variety of different needs.

According to Dr. Edward McCabe, medical director of the March of Dimes, campaigns to reduce elective early births before 39 weeks of pregnancy are helping to bring preterm numbers down. He told USA Today doctors occasionally get due dates wrong and end up electing to deliver premature babies via induction or cesarean section - a practice that is now strongly discouraged by many hospital systems. McCabe added that more prudent use of fertility treatments is helping to reduce multiple pregnancies which often result in preterm births.

According to Craig Rubens, executive director of the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth, researchers urgently need to learn why so many babies are born too soon.  "It's really embarrassing to say that we don't even know why women go into labor at full term, much less why some go into labor early," he told USA Today.