WHITE PLAINS, NY, OCT. 3, 2012 – Preterm births fell for the fifth straight year in 2011, and the improvement was across the board — every racial and ethnic group benefitted, and there were fewer preterm babies born at all stages of pregnancy, according to preliminary birth data released today by the National Center for Health Statistics.
The US preterm birth rate peaked in 2006 at 12.8, after rising steadily for more than two decades and dropped by more than 8 percent to 11.7 in 2011. The March of Dimes estimates that this single year improvement means about 16,000 babies were spared the health consequences of an early birth.
“About 64,000 fewer babies were born preterm in 2010, when compared to 2006, the peak year. All this improvement means not just healthier babies, but also a potential savings of roughly $3 billion in health care and economic costs to society,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “The March of Dimes credits this success to prevention efforts by its many partners including state and local health departments and hospitals.”
Despite the continued improvement in prevention of preterm births, an estimated 460,000 babies were born preterm in the United States last year. Preterm birth, (before 37 weeks of completed pregnancy,) is the leading cause of newborn death (death in the first month of life) and is the second leading cause of infant death (death in the first year). Babies who survive face an increased risk of life-long health challenges, including cerebral palsy, breathing problems, intellectual disabilities and other problems.
The March of Dimes set a goal of lowering the national preterm birth to 9.6 percent of all births by 2020. The March of Dimes says this goal can be achieved by a combination of activities: giving all women of childbearing age access to health care coverage, fully implementing proven interventions to reduce the risk of an early birth, such as not smoking during pregnancy, getting preconception and early prenatal care, progesterone treatments for women who are medically eligible, avoiding multiples from fertility treatments, avoiding elective c-sections and inductions before 39 weeks of pregnancy unless medically necessary, and by accelerating investment for new research on causes prevention of preterm birth.
Through Strong Start, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the March of Dimes has been working to promote its Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait® campaign, which urges women and health care providers to avoid scheduling a medically unnecessary delivery before 39 weeks of pregnancy because important development of the brain, lungs and other organs occur during the last few weeks.
The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.com or nacersano.org. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.