Fewer U.S. babies being born early, report says
November 1st, 2011
12:01 AM ET

Fewer U.S. babies being born early, report says

When it comes to babies being carried to full term, the United States is improving, according to the most recent March of Dimes report card. This year the U.S. achieved a C grade, a grade higher than the D grade of  2010.

Each year, the March of Dimes compares each state's pre-term birth rate with the goal birth rate. The report says 40,000  fewer babies were born prematurely in the U.S. between 2006 and 2009.

"We set a goal of 9.6 % by 2020, and it's a realistic goal we can get to and it would be a tremendous accomplishment," says Douglas A. Staples,  senior vice president of strategic marketing and communications for the   March of Dimes. This year the state of Vermont was the only state to achieve that goal. The current nationwide rate is 12.2 percent.

"I think we absolutely want to all be A's. It's a step in right direction," says Dr. George Macones, chair of the American College of Obstetricians and and Gynecologists committee on obstetrics practice. "I really think poverty, access to care, social structure and anything that goes along with that," are responsible for the numbers not being better, says Macones. "That's going to be hard for us to overcome without some big changes."

In the report, 16 states received a B, 19 received a C, 11 states along with the District of Columbia were given a D, and three states and Puerto Rico failed.

A baby born before 37 weeks is considered premature and at serious health risk.  Being born earlier than 37 weeks is the leading cause of newborn death in the United States, costing more than $26 billion each year, according to the report. While the U.S. ranks first in health care spending, it is 39th in infant mortality, according to a 2006 report.

A lot more can be done to help babies be born healthy and not premature, says Staples.  More access to health care, prenatal care, getting women to stop smoking, reducing the number of early scheduled C-sections for non-medical reasons, and reducing the number of multiple births through fertility treatments, would be helpful in continuing to reduce the number of pre-term babies, adds Staples.

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Christine

    As a twin mom, it irks me to see so many OBs regularly recommending inducement or c-sections of twins and singletons at 38 weeks WITHOUT MEDICAL CAUSE! And most expectant mothers seem to take their advice! This must stop. We need more education for expectant parents around how those last few weeks are so important in minimizing a baby's health risk going forward.

    November 1, 2011 at 04:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • kmcg

      Unfortunately it happens with singletons as well.

      March of Dimes also has a 29-week campaign stressing that early inductions and C-sections are not appropriate in most cases. Considering a "due date" can be off by 3 weeks, can you imagine the horror of inducing at 37 weeks and having your baby actually be at 34 weeks?

      Bodies know people!

      November 1, 2011 at 09:51 | Report abuse |
    • ThinkAgain

      Twins are full-term at 37 weeks and a twins pregnancy is more dangerous than a singleton as a rule (with greater risk of complication, i.e.. pre-eclampsia, the further along you get), so that's my guess as to why doctors suggest delivering them.

      It's good to hear that fewer twins are born early. Mine came naturally at 32 weeks, 5 days, and fortunately didn't have any issues, but we were the exception to the rule.

      November 1, 2011 at 10:26 | Report abuse |
  2. cest moi

    Thank you, Christine.

    November 1, 2011 at 05:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. JustMe

    My baby was born at 31 weeks... and it had NOTHING to do with "poverty, access to care, social structure and anything that goes along with that," What about maternal illness... or sometimes it just cannot be prevented.. this article almost blames it on lack of care or poverty... meh... my child is absolutely healthy and has been from birth... anyway =)

    November 1, 2011 at 06:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • KJ

      You (and my happy healthy 32 weeker) are the exception. I don't know your situation, but in mine there is little proactive measures that can be taken to limit the risk; other than not have a baby. Those things mentioned in the article are exactly what we need to be focusing on. Early prenatal care, diet, education, etc. are vital to the health of babies.

      November 1, 2011 at 06:51 | Report abuse |
    • Gadsden

      The vast majority of the time prematurity is associated with low socio-economic status. The reason is not clear, but the association is inarguable. Medicaid ends up picking up the bill for these prolonged and very expensive hospital stays. It would be very advantageous for states to strongly encourage women on Medicaid to delay having children until they are financially able to support them and provide for their medical care. This in and of itself would reduce the prematurity rate since fewer babies would be born to women of low socio-economic status and as a result would lower the infant mortality rate.

      November 1, 2011 at 07:08 | Report abuse |
    • Tiff

      Most of the time Medicaid picks up the tab because the bills for these babies are insane. I had decent pre-natal care and tried to take pretty good care of myself, but I ended up getting an illness that is unpreventable and the cause of it isn't even known, and my son had to be born via c-section at 37 weeks. He had pulmonary hypertension, and between the two of us we spent 20 days in the hospital, racking up a total of almost $130,000 in medical bills. Our insurance covered most of it, but we still ended up with nearly 10k we didn't expect to have, and Medicaid will almost always pick it up because the debts are huge and even with insurance it's hard or impossible to pay it off (it costs between $5-15k a day in the NICU, and some babies are there for almost a year, so you can imagine their bills). Premature babies can also get social security if they are below a certain weight. It's not usually much, but when you have that much medical debt to pay off, it helps.

      November 1, 2011 at 10:11 | Report abuse |
  4. Missaness

    My first daughter was 38 weeks when I had her. I was induced, because there was almost no fluid left in my uterus. She was over 21 inches and 7lbs 11oz. She is now almost 9.

    My next child, also a girl, was born at 39 weeks (she is currently 19 months old), also induced, because I had a 3 month cold during that time. She was very small, Around 18 inches and 5lbs 8oz.

    She is extremely healthy, even more than my first child. At 19 months she is over 30 inches tall, and weight almost 19lbs, and she's freaking SMART. Like, scary smart.

    And yet, my insurance got raised, because I smoke. My husband is overweight...and my baby, who is probably the healthiest person among our family...is small. She alone because of being small made my insurance go up $90.

    We nag people for being smokers or drinkers, fine. They are adults. We nag people for being obese, fine. When we raise insurance rates for a VERY healthy child because she is small? Plain stupidity.

    November 1, 2011 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. JR

    How many are born to females considered 'high risk'? Teens and women over 40?

    We need more details about the demographics of the mothers before you can come up with a plausible solution to the problem.

    November 1, 2011 at 08:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Grateful Mom

    My daughter was born at 28 weeks. I'm not in the "low" socio-economic status category, I do not smoke and have health insurance. Due to developing pre-eclamsia and help syndrome, my child had to be delivered early or BOTH our lives would have been in jeopardy. My daughter is healthly and smaller than some kids her age (11) but we are BLESSED.

    Let's not "lump" everyone in the same category. Somethings, we cannot control.

    November 1, 2011 at 09:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mom of 2 with 1 on the way

      I agree completely. You can't assume that everyone with a preemie is poor, or engages in risky behavior. However I work with pregnant women and I have known more than a handful who ROUTINELY give birth to preemie babies. We're talking women who have 4 or 5 children ALL born prematurely...many of them before 30wks. This is unacceptable. As a currently pregnant mom with already 2 babies, I completely understand wanting children. I understand not wanting to limit your family based on pregnancy complications. But when several of these women have LOST children who were born prematurely along the way...we need to start getting them counseling. My daughter was born at 40wks on the spot, and my son was born at almost 40wks, so I don't know the pain and anguish of having to watch your baby stay in the NICU while you wait for them to be OK'd to come home, and I completely sympathize with this – no one needs to feel responsible for something that can just HAPPEN. But for all the preemie births that were unexpected, or induced due to life-threatening complications, there are women out there having preemies on a regular basis...and that's just mental. Then again, it's also mental that OBs routinely recommend repeat c-sections instead of VBACs for women with no health risks. We just need to overhaul the whole mommy/baby healthcare system, no doubt about it.

      November 1, 2011 at 10:27 | Report abuse |
    • ThinkAgain

      Very well said. These things need to be looked at in detail, instead of just lumping folks together arbitrarily. Good prenatal care and maternal health are huge factors in any successful pregnancy, but there are always unforeseen complications that can arise.

      November 1, 2011 at 10:29 | Report abuse |
  7. Lisa

    I had a 33 weeker due to pre-eclamsia, 4 lbs 4 oz, 17.5" long. My Husband & I are both (employed) engineers, have insurance, went to all doctor's appointments, took my vitamins, did EVERYTHING by the book. 40% of preterm births have no explanation. I am a committee member, a volunteer and the Ambassador family for the March of Dimes.

    November 1, 2011 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lisa

      I forgot to add that he spent 5 weeks in NICU. We paid $12K out of pocket for the $120K bill.

      November 1, 2011 at 09:30 | Report abuse |
  8. Mom of Twins

    My twins were born at 30 weeks (3 lbs 1/2 oz & 2 lbs 10 oz). I have/had insurance and do not fit the low socio-economial profile. However, I assume they mean that a majority of the low birth wieght earlyl arrivals are due to those conditions. Their main push is to educate those women so that they can carry longer term preganancies. My children are 10 now and thriving, but thanks to the MOD and their research they are here today! I do not work for MOD, but do support their research and I pray that one day, no mother has to watch their baby(ies) fight for their lives in the NICU. It's all about getting the word out and helping those who may not have access to the right care.

    November 1, 2011 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Gabor47

    I am an OB-GYN physician. The kind readers can't imagine the pressure from a growing number of women who want "to get it over with" the pregnancy. Along with that the reasoning of "they can save the baby these days...can't they?". In fact, once I was sued for refusing to deliver a 36.5 week pregnant patient for "causing mental anguish". Okay, it was eventually dismissed, but it took for me legal fees and about 2 years of battle.

    November 1, 2011 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • kat

      "Mental anguish" is such a bs excuse. They just wanted an easy way to get some extra cash. They are part of the reason that health care costs are so high and why we need tort reform. I wish you docs could give that name out to every other doctor and you could all refuse to see this person.

      November 1, 2011 at 09:45 | Report abuse |
    • kmcg

      It IS frustrating that docs are going through that, but you HAVE to stand strong and do what is medically appropriate. Show them the March of Dime brain growth charts and ask them if they still want to deliver early!

      Frame it for the health of the baby, if they can't hold on for their child they shouldn't be having one. Call social services.

      November 1, 2011 at 09:57 | Report abuse |
  10. Amanda

    My daughter was born at exactly 24 weeks. She was 21 inches long, 1.6 oz. She lasted 30 hrs before she got a grade 3 brain bleed. She didn't make it. I don't fit in any of those either. I'm healthy, did everything right. Not a smoker nor drank while pregnant. Went to every doc appointment, took my vitamins, got the regular exercise and ate right. They couldn't give me a reason why. Some things can't be explained. 🙁

    November 1, 2011 at 09:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. kmcg

    To all you mothers worried about being lumped in that category – calm down! The appropriate rate has been set at 9.6% because sometimes there ARE medical reasons to deliver early, and sometimes you can't control what happens!

    The problem is that many premature babies are the results of non-medically induced labors and C-sections, OR the mother and baby are unhealthy because of their SES, a high risk pregnancy because of age or illness, etc.

    November 1, 2011 at 09:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • kmcg

      And it's those last things that are the SOCIAL determinants of prematurity that we need to work on.

      November 1, 2011 at 09:55 | Report abuse |
  12. IgM

    For all the women who posted with perfectly healthy premies, please realize that the article is not saying that the ONLY cause of prematurity is socioeconomic factors. Of course there are health reasons and a number of other factors we can't control for. However, poor access to prenatal care is a major issue. Just because your baby turned out okay doesn't mean they all do.

    November 1, 2011 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. k

    If you will notice in the article, to get an A does not require 100% full term births. Reality intrudes on the best of plans. March of Dimes is trying to focus on controllable variables

    November 1, 2011 at 10:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. view

    While low socioeconomic status certainly can have its' risks, it's not everything. I've seen healthy women who did everything right go into labor early to women who are smoking and engaging in other risky behaviors that deliver full term. I work at an affluent hospital and it happens to the full spectrum of patients. The research is still inconclusive and a lot has yet to be done.

    November 1, 2011 at 10:45 | Report abuse | Reply
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