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May 11th, 2010
12:54 PM ET

U.S. preemie births drop for second year in a row

By Ann J. Curley
CNN Medical Assignment Manager

For the first time in nearly three decades, preterm births in the U.S. dropped for two years in a row for mothers of all ages under forty. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics published the findings on Tuesday.

Preterm births declined four percent nationally, from 12.8 percent per one hundred births in 2006 to 12.3 percent in 2008. The decrease during the last two years is a departure from preterm birth rates from the early 1980s through 2006, which increased by more than one third, according to CDC data. Explanations for the increased premature births include more multiple births – which are often born earlier, and increased obstetric interventions such as induced labor and cesarean deliveries earlier in pregnancy.

Since 2006, when preterm rates peaked in the United States, 35 states have shown significant decreases in preterm births, with the exception of Hawaii, which reported an increase in preterm births. While African American women still have the highest rates of preterm births, their rates for preterm births fell 5 percent from 2006 to 2008, as did rates for non-Hispanic white infants. Hispanic preterm births showed a small increase between 2006 and 2007 but decreased nearly two percent from 2007 to 2008.

Study author Joyce Martin, epidemiologist for CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, says the new statistics are encouraging because, “we now see the rate has declined for two years… it’s the first time we’ve seen that, and the result is reasonably large, and, importantly, it’s widespread across race, age, and states.”

Why are preterm births of such concern? Babies born before 37 weeks, preterm, are at increased risk for many serious health problems and disabilities, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, learning problems, chronic lung disease, as well as vision, heart and hearing problems. The March of Dimes estimates that babies born before 37 weeks cost the United States more than $26 billion annually and preemies have a mortality rate three times as high as babies born full-term.

Dr. Alan R. Fleischman, Medical Director for the March of Dimes says that, "after almost thirty years of increasing preterm births, a four percent decrease (for the overall infant population) is amazing. Over twenty thousand babies will be spared prematurity."

Fleischman says the best way to prevent premature births begins before pregnancy. Women planning to become pregnant need to take care of all health issues: Stop smoking and drinking, lose or gain weight before getting pregnant and check thyroid levels. "Plan the pregnancy. If they’ve had a preterm birth, talk to their obstetrician about that. There’s a new drug that is being used – 17-alpha Hydroxyprogesterone Caproate (17P), that shows promise in preventing preterm birth. Take multivitamins with folic acid because there is some indication that they prevent preterm birth.” Fleischman notes that it’s critical for expectant moms to work with their medical provider to maintain healthy habits and diet, and to know the signs of premature birth.

Fleischman says more work needs to be done to continue to prevent premature births.  He is testifying tomorrow before the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee about preterm birth and infant mortality and he will urge legislators to reauthorize the PREEMIE Act (P.L. 109-450), which supports expanded research, education and other projects to help reduce preterm birth rates.

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soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Abdal-Latif

    Medical practicioners need to get out of the habit of "making the symptoms go away" and get to the root of the problem–rather than throwing drugs at it, possibly leading to unforeseen and unintended consequences. Don't be too quick to label something a pathology that needs to be stamped out and erased–consider the alternatives. What if there is something contingently adaptive about a particular outcome such as premature birth? What if there is a REASON that a child was born early? What if a full-term pregnancy, under the individual circumstances of a particular pregnancy, would've been WORSE? Would you still want to give the mother a drug to try to force the fetus to stay in there? So unfortunate and so reflexive an approach.

    May 11, 2010 at 13:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Enkidu

    RE; Abdal-Latif

    Of course, the baby and mom are closely monitored and if it is better to get the baby out, then that is the course the doctors take; no one is advocating a "keep the baby in there at all costs" approach.

    When my water broke at 27 weeks, the first thing the docs did was give me a steroid shot to develp my daughter's lungs; we were hoping to keep her in utero at least 48 hours for the shot to take effect, longer if at all possible. But an ultrasound showed that she was in distress, and 3 hours after my water broke she was delivered via emergency c-section.

    We were one of the lucky ones – no bleeding on the brain, her heart valve was closed, and her eyes and lungs eventually matured. But during her 2 month stay in the NICU I saw many other preemies, some born later than she was, that weren't so lucky. We all would have given anything to keep them (safely) in utero longer, to let them develop more fully and not have to be intubated, pricked, poked, x-rayed, given donor blood and donor milk, kept from us in a heated box instead of being in their crib at home.

    May 11, 2010 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Marmar

      Tara Butterworth – This is fantastic news Sue!! I was at risk for preretm labor with my first baby and now with baby #2. I understand how scary that can be and it's such a blessing to have docs that are taking really good care of you. I am only 15 weeks and will be very excited to get to 26 weeks too. I am so happy that things are going so well for you this time around!!The pictures are simply lovely!!

      December 21, 2012 at 09:47 | Report abuse |
  3. Grant

    As a former premature baby (1 lb 8 oz and 12 weeks premature), this story brings a smile to my face, especially due to the fact that despite all of the health problems I could have had, I only have a mild breathing problem due to prolonged exposure to a respirator that caused scar tissue.

    May 11, 2010 at 15:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Dagney

    As the mother of a preemie born at 25 wks, weighing only 1 lb 3 oz who is now 14 years old, has cerebral palsy, spent 3 months in the NICU, had a brain bleed, three transfusions, gi issues, was on a ventilator for so long I didn't even know what her face looked like until she was over a month old, a feeding tube in her stomach for 4 1/2 years because she was born before her brain developed to the point that she knew instinctively how to eat... the list goes on...
    I am thankful for EVERY advance medical science makes in this regard, for EVERY baby not born one minute earlier than necessary, EVERY mom educated in how to care for herself during pregnancy!
    My heart leaps for EVERY Mom who doesn't have to watch helplessly hour after hour, day after week after month as her baby struggles to cling to life.
    Of course each doctor tries to keep the babies in utero (Abdal Latif) but the reasons that a baby is born early are never good – and when a baby is born prematurely, it is a matter of life or death, sometimes for baby and Mom.
    This decrease is phenominal news!! So, anyone who posts that this is otherwise, you may want to research it first. Anyone and everyone who has had or been a preemie – let's all give a round of applause to all who have worked to make this happen. I hope it is not a coincidence or fluke, but a trend moving in the right direction!!

    May 11, 2010 at 16:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Mindi Ford

    Being the mom of an extreme preemie I am well aware of the risks and potential long term issues.

    I guess I am one of the lucky ones. Colt was born 13 weeks 6 days early. He caught the hospital off guard and was a natural breech birth. He is now a healthy happy 6 year old. His long term issues include stress and anxiety disorders.

    The staff at our NICU was top notch and Colt came home after 6.5 weeks. He is considered a miracle. When you are sitting in the hospital begging your tiny angel to breath, breath one more tiny breathe, you don't feel a lot of hope. You just sit there and watch and wait. You've seen some babies go home with their families. You've seen some families who never get that chance. You wonder which experience yours will be. It is every bit as hard on the parent as it is the child.

    Most NICUs aren't near where the family lives...I was 2.5 hours away. I wasn't allowed to hold Colt but for a short time since it was a waste of his precious energy. Bonding is limited and for the most part...the experience of childbirth and the first days/weeks/months of your baby are surreal.

    I shared our experience in a positive book written for children about the NICU. Colt tells the story, a story of hope. The national odds may be 1 in 12 for a preemie, but in our area they are 1 in 5-7.

    To the team who worked with Colt (and I know you are reading this article)...Thank you! He is an amazing child and my greatest gift. You will always be a part of our lives. For all the families who we grieved silently with from a distance, may you find peace. Those of us with a tiny fighter know how precious everyday is with our child. Take the time to love your child, hug them, tell them how special they are. You may not fully appreciate what you have until you watch them struggle for life.

    May 11, 2010 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. dmc

    I have to wonder if the preemie rate went down accompanied by a higher overall birth rate and decreased age of mothers. Older mothers are at risk for preemies, I believe. If a large influx of younger women giving birth came into the picture (say, because of more restrictive abortion laws or decreased access to abortion), this might also explain the downtick in preemies.

    May 11, 2010 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. e

    Whomever performed this study should take a look at the economy's part in this. Most OB units have seen a decrease in births over the last two years as well, and much of this seems to be due to the poor economy. Many would-be moms are preventing pregnancy, or holding off because it's just too expensive to have another child right now. The rates hopeful moms at infertility clinics have particularly gone down. With less twins and triplets from infertility clinics and less high-risk moms, it makes obvious sense the preterm birth rate would go down as well.

    May 12, 2010 at 03:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jon N Carol

    Our daughter was born 14 weeks early at 1 lb. 11 oz. She was in the hospital for 89 day. The hospital was a half mile away from our house and while I was at work my wife decided to walk to the hospital because she did not feel well. Needless to say an emergency C-section followed after 2 shots of steroids. Every extra hour inside my wife gave my daughter's lungs a chance to mature a little more. It was a roller-coaster for the 89 days she was in the hospital where everyday it seemed like a new concern would come along but it always passed. We were lucky...her brain had no bleeding, the doctors has some concern about her heart, and she did have some R.O.P. in eyes due to being on oxygen for a prolong period. We brought her home at 4 lbs. 5 oz. and she was and still is a total blessing (even though the heart and breathing monitor scared us every 15 minutes for the first couple weeks she was home!) If you have a preemie hang in there! There are many parents out there who have your back. All of our experiences are different but we do have a lot in common! We thank God and the doctors and nurses every day for our special gift. She is now two years old, still petite and in therapy but a beautiful little girl.

    May 12, 2010 at 03:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. CM

    This is so misleading. Yes, the rate from 12.8 to 12.3/100 is 4% different...but overall that's only a .5% change in rate overall. Truth is medicine is doing nothing to prevent premature babies that is having any kind of consequence. Inducing labor isn't the answer as aren't Caesareans. And exactly how is a pregnant woman taking a drug (17-alpha Hydroxyprogesterone Caproate (17P)) supposed to be more healthy than what our own bodies can provide?? The thinking is ridiculous. More drugs and surgery are not the path to creating better health in America.

    May 12, 2010 at 08:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Kelly Fraasch

    I too am a parent of a child born at just 1 lb over 9 years ago.
    She is doing well and we are very lucky. After 9 months in the NICU, coming home with a child that had a trach, oxygen, visual impairment and little to no milestone development we were devastated. She is now a happy, healthy 3rd grader with a hearing impairment, mild visual impairment (sees better than me) and was doing three digit multiplication at the kitchen table last night.
    We started an organization in our area to help parents directly that have been affected by preterm birth, congenital disorders and chronic illness, Parent Resource Network. Services are national.
    March of Dimes is doing a wonderful job with research and helping babies with new technologies to help these kids survive, but I am just as concerned about outcomes for these little ones. Their fight begins in the NICU, but doesn't come close to ending once they are discharged. It's a lifelong battle to overcome medical, emotional and physical impacts of a premature birth in a family.
    I hope the numbers continue to go down and fewer families experience the hardship of having a child too soon. My only other worry are people might read this and think that we don't have to focus on prematurity as much, but that is far from the truth, this country has a long way to go in helping prevent and provide support for families.

    May 12, 2010 at 10:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. lrt

    Women of all ages can have preemies. Sometimes, it is a genetic thing or lack of prenatal care. Yes, that still happens in the US. So, I beg to differ on the age thing. Older women are at an increased risk for a baby to be born with birth defects. There again, that is also something genetic, most of the time, and women of all ages can have a baby with birth defects. The preemie rate just might have went down because the medical community could have possibly made some advances in prenatal care.

    May 12, 2010 at 10:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Ann Siegle

    I am both a surviving preterm infant (born at 30 weeks gestation in 1969), and a mother of a 35×5 preterm infant and three earlier miscarriages. My daughter's life was saved at 23.5 weeks gestation by an emergency cerclage, use of betamethasone steroid shots at 28 weeks gestation, a tocolytic as needed to quell preterm labor, bed rest and was born weighing 6lbs 4.5 oz, with only jaundice and some limited breathing issues that did not require a NICU stay. 17p is not used for women with a cerclage, and in my subsequent pregnancy, now 34×3 weeks, I have had a prophylactic cerclage, and extensive monitoring including monthly fetal fibronectin tests. This reduction in rates of preterm deliveries is big news, and I hope it means, as in my case, that teams of obstetricians and perinatologists are working with high-risk mothers to increase the length of time babies can be in utero. I have fabulous prenatal care, and hope that EVERY mother gets the care she needs to keep her baby in full term.

    May 12, 2010 at 12:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Maria

    I broke my water at 28 weeks, and I was lucky to receive 2 steriod shots and deliver at 29 weeks. She was 2lb 12oz, and I'll never forget her being whisked away by nurses and doctors so quickly, the OB couldn't even tell me the sex! I just remember hearing the nurses clapping and cheering because "she's breathing room air!!!" My daughter stayed in NICU for 48 days, and had no brain bleeding, no respiratory problems, no heart defects. What a blessing. She's 11 now, about to go into middle school, and is just a normal kid, with a little bit of eye problems from prematurity. I know that we are the lucky ones, and I cry for joy everytime I tell this story. My heart aches for those not so lucky. I pray for you all.

    May 13, 2010 at 08:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Enkidu

    @ CM

    Not everyone's body can provide everything mom and baby needs, hate to burst your bubble. I followed every health guideline to a "T" and still my daughter was born at 27 weeks when my membranes ruptured prematurely. If I happen to get pregnant again, I'll be first in line for any drug that might help keep my baby in my womb longer.

    Modern medicine has come a long way in saving preemies, but they have so much further to go in figuring out how to prevent preterm birth in the first place. Still, I am so grateful for the wonderful doctors and nurses that saved my daughter, and the medical equipment and, yes, DRUGS, that kept her healthy and alive... and able to come home after a 60 day stay in the NICU.

    May 13, 2010 at 21:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Agilluly

    My hat goes off to all of the doctors and nurses there in my hospital room when my little boy was born early at 32 weeks. He was brought into this world on Thanksgiving Day 1988. He seemed to be so small and had such a hard time breathing. I couldn't even hold him until he was a week old. He was a sick baby with upper respiratory infections. Now he is 21 years old and a junior in college. He has excellent health! Thank you docs and nurses!!

    May 13, 2010 at 22:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Delores

    If the aborted babies were included in this report, the numbers up instead of down. You can't get more preemie then that. As a grandmother of a preemie, my heart aches for those babies who never have a chance for a breath of life.

    May 14, 2010 at 12:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Doug Shiloh

    This article highlights why I volunteer for the March of Dimes in northern Illinois. Great stat to hear!

    May 14, 2010 at 20:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. JeffNR333

    I'd like to see more detailed statistics. For example, what is the number of full-term vs premature births for single pregnancies as opposed to multiples? If a poor economy is reducing the number of (very expensive) in-vitro fertilizations, I'd expect to see fewer multiple pregnancies, which would temporarily bring down the overall premie average without really reflecting an improvement.

    July 22, 2010 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Happy

    Anything that can be done to bring light to this issue would be great! I was 28 no medical complications and went into full blown labor at 29 weeks no one could ever explain why. My son was born 5 weeks later through the use of many different types of medical drugs, hospitalizations, etc. I am thankful for everything that is being done to prevent this from happening!

    July 30, 2010 at 08:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Dulce

    This cause is so near and dear to my heart to. It always braeks my heart to hear of another baby that was born too soon. With this pregnancy I'm focused on making it to viability and then I'll deal with prolonging the pregnancy as long as I possibly can.

    December 18, 2012 at 21:46 | Report abuse | Reply

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