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US Preterm Birth Rate Drops To 15-Year Low

Disparities Gap Slowly Narrowing The 2012 preterm birth rate among non-Hispanic black infants remains the highest of all the racial groups at 16.8 percent, down from 18.5 percent in 2006 and the lowest in more than 20 years.  The gap between blacks and whites has been slowly narrowing, but the preterm birth rate among non-Hispanic blacks is still more than 1.5 times the rate of non-Hispanic whites.

Preterm birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy,) is a serious health crisis that costs the US more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine. It is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of serious and sometimes lifelong health problems, such as breathing problems, jaundice, developmental delays, vision loss and cerebral palsy. Babies born just a few weeks too soon have higher rates of death and disability than full-term babies. Even infants born at 37-38 weeks of pregnancy have an increased risk for health problems compared to infants born at 39 weeks.

On the 2013 Report Card, 31 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico saw improvement in their preterm birth rates between 2011 and 2012, earning seven – Alaska, California, District of Columbia, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and New Jersey – better grades. Nineteen states earned a "B," 17 states and the District of Columbia received a "C," five states got a "D," and only three states and Puerto Rico received an "F" on the report card.

California's success in achieving the March of Dimes goal is noteworthy. Not only is California home to half a million births each year, the most of any state, it also has a racially diverse population in a mix of urban, suburban and rural communities that have a variety of healthcare and economic needs.

The March of Dimes Report Card compares each state's preterm birth rate to the March of Dimes goal of 9.6 percent of all live births by 2020.  The Report Card information for the U.S. and states are available online at: marchofdimes.com/reportcard.

The Report Card also gauges states' progress toward lowering their preterm birth rates by tracking contributing factors.

  • 37 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico reduced the percentage of uninsured women of childbearing age;
  • 35 states and  the District of Columbia reduced the percentage of women of childbearing age who smoke;
  • 28 states the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico lowered the late preterm birth rate, infants born between 34 and 36 weeks gestation.

The March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign is supported by Destination Maternity Corporation, the WellPoint Foundation, and gifts from millions of individual donors.

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