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Preterm baby birth rate in the U.S. drops, report finds

Lowest level in 15 years, but rates in many states are still too high

Published: November 01, 2013 10:00 AM

The percentage of babies born early in the U.S. dropped to 11.5 percent in 2012, a 15-year low, according to the annual March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card, made public today. But rates in many states remain too high.

Each year on Nov. 1, the March of Dimes releases a nationwide report card that identifies areas for improvement in each state. Only six states—Alaska, California, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Vermont—got an A on the March of Dimes’ report card, with a preterm birth rate of 9.6 or lower. Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Puerto Rico all earned an F, with preterm birth rates of 14.6 percent or higher. (See how your state fared.)

Prematurity is the leading cause of newborn death in the U.S. and beyond. In 2012, the March of Dimes’ Born Too Soon report, published by the March of Dimes Foundation, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health, Save the Children, and the World Health Organization, ranked countries based on estimated 2010 data and showed that preterm birth rates are on the rise in most countries and that preterm birth is the single most important cause of neonatal deaths (babies under 28 days) and the second-leading cause of death in children under 5.  The report ranked the U.S. 54th in the world, just slightly higher than Thailand, Turkey, and Somalia.

As we prereviously reported, one of the main reasons that the U.S. premature birth rate is high appears to be a health care system that does too little to help moms enter their pregnancies healthy, and that does too much to intervene as women give birth. In fact, many women and their doctors deliberately schedule babies early, either by C-section or by induced labor, a practice that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends against.  

See our special report "What to Reject When You're Expecting" and our complete coverage of Babies & Kids.

Other reasons for the continued high rate of preterm deliveries include the use of fertility treatments that result in twins and triplets, more older women having babies, and some populations being especially vulnerable. For example, African-American babies are born too early 18 percent of the time.

According to the March of Dimes, premature birth costs society more than $26 billion. Babies born even a few weeks early are at risk of severe health problems and lifelong disabilities.

—Jill Arnold

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