TUESDAY, Nov. 13 (HealthDay News) -- For the fifth year in a
row, the preterm birth rate in the United States has dropped. The
2011 rate was the lowest in 10 years, the March of Dimes reported
But, there's still significant room for improvement. Nearly half
a million babies in the United States are still born prematurely,
noted the March of Dimes in its 2012 Premature Birth Report Card.
Overall, the U.S. grade remains a "C" because of the continued high
preterm birth rate.
A preterm birth occurs at less than 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Prematurity puts infants at risk for a number of health problems
including breathing difficulty, heart defects and bleeding in the
brain. Some conditions are only temporary while others can
In 2011, "the rate of preterm birth [was] at 11.7 percent, which
is the lowest we've seen in a decade," said Dr. Edward McCabe,
medical director for the March of Dimes. "That means 64,000 fewer
babies were born prematurely in 2010 compared to 2006, the peak
year for preterm birth. Along with the personal cost, there's also
an economic cost, and there's a potential savings of $3 billion in
health care and economic costs associated with those 64,000 babies
not being born preterm."
The goal, McCabe said, is to get the number of preterm births
down to 9.6 percent by 2020.
Four states -- Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont -- have
already achieved that goal, and were graded an "A" by the March of
Dimes. Twenty-two states were closing in on the goal and received a
"B" grade. Almost all states -- 45 -- improved between 2009 and
2011. However, just 16 of them improved enough to increase their
Three states -- Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi -- and Puerto
Rico received a failing grade. Alabama's preterm rate was 14.9
percent, Louisiana's was 15.6 percent, Mississippi's was 16.9
percent and Puerto Rico had a preterm birth rate of 17.6
Several major factors that still contribute to preterm births,
the March of Dimes says, are maternal smoking, a lack of health
insurance and early induction of labor or a scheduled cesarean
delivery between 34 and 36 weeks of gestation without a medical
reason for the early delivery.
Delivery between 34 and 36 weeks is considered late preterm
Four states had maternal smoking rates above 30 percent, with
West Virginia leading the pack with nearly 36 percent of expectant
moms still smoking. The other three states with significantly high
rates were Kentucky, Ohio and South Dakota.
Texas had the worst rates of uninsured women with 34.2 percent
without insurance. Florida and New Mexico had rates of uninsured
women of about 30 percent.
The March of Dimes also looked at late preterm birth rates.
Just three states and Puerto Rico had double-digit rates of late
preterm birth. Puerto Rico's rate was the highest at 12.6 percent
followed by Mississippi at 11.9 percent. Louisiana's rate was 10.6
percent followed by Alabama with 10.3 percent, according to the
report card. McCabe said 39 weeks or later is considered a
To try to further reduce the rate of preterm birth, 48 states
along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have pledged to
work with the March of Dimes to reduce their preterm birth rates by
8 percent by 2014.
On an individual level, women can make changes that can help
reduce the rate of preterm birth, too, such as quitting smoking and
eating a healthy diet, McCabe said. He said it's also important to
have a preconception visit with your doctor if possible, and to go
to every prenatal visit, even if you're feeling fine.
Another expert, Dr. Deborah Campbell, director of the division
of neonatology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, said
that while the lower rates are good news, more needs to be
"States that have made progress should applaud that progress, but when you look at the map, there are still many states that need to refocus and redouble their efforts," Campbell said.
Campbell agreed that the three factors singled out by the March
of Dimes are important, but added that "there are a lot of other
factors we don't have a good handle on. The rates of preterm birth
for babies less than 32 weeks have stayed steady for about two
decades. For these tiniest of babies, we still don't have a full
understanding of how to prevent preterm birth."
Learn more about the signs of preterm labor from the
March of Dimes.
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