The preterm birth rate in the United States dropped for the fifth consecutive year in 2011, to 11.7%, marking its lowest level in a decade, according to a report from the March of Dimes.
“These results demonstrate that many premature births can be prevented with the right policies and bold leadership,” March of Dimes President Jennifer L. Howse, PhD, said in a news release. “Our national progress in reducing premature births over the past five years shows that when infant health becomes a priority, babies benefit.”
Vermont, Oregon, New Hampshire and Maine earned an “A” on the March of Dimes 2012 Premature Birth Report Card with preterm birth rates that met the organizations 9.6% goal.
The U.S. preterm birth rate peaked in 2006 at 12.8% after rising steadily for more than two decades. The improvement since then means not only healthier babies, but also a potential savings of roughly $3 billion in healthcare and economic costs to society, Howse said. About 64,000 fewer babies were born preterm in 2010 when compared to 2006, the peak year.
Based on the 2012 Report Card, 45 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico lowered their preterm birth rates between 2009 and 2011, with 16 earning better grades. The largest declines in premature birth occurred among babies born at 34 to 36 weeks of pregnancy, but the improvement was across the board. Every racial and ethnic group benefited, and there were fewer preterm babies born at all stages of pregnancy.
The March of Dimes “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait” campaign urges healthcare providers and patients to schedule a delivery not before 39 completed weeks of pregnancy, unless there is a medical reason to do so earlier. The Department of Health and Human Services “Strong Start” initiative is partnering with the March of Dimes to raise awareness about the importance of a full term pregnancy through paid advertising support and collaboration with hospitals to improve perinatal care.
The March of Dimes’ report card compares each states preterm birth rate to the organizations goal of lowering the rate to 9.6% of all live births by 2020. The report card also gauges states progress toward lowering their preterm birth rates by tracking contributing factors. For example, seven states and D.C. reduced the percentage of uninsured women of childbearing age; and 43 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico lowered the late preterm birth rate (infants born between 34 and 36 weeks gestation).
Worldwide, 15 million babies are born prematurely each year and more than 1 million die as a result of their early births. In a global report on premature birth issued in May by the March of Dimes and several partners, the U.S. ranked 131 out of 184 countries.
The March of Dimes and its global partners will mark the second World Prematurity Day on Nov. 17 by asking everyone to post a story about a baby born too soon at www.facebook.com/WorldPrematurityDay. The page will feature an interactive world map showing the home site of each story told.
Also on Nov. 17, the Empire State Building in New York City will be shining in purple light to symbolize hope for a healthy start for more babies.
The 2012 Report Card is available at www.marchofdimes.com/mission/prematurity_reportcard.html.