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When it comes to preventing preterm birth, the United States earns a pretty pathetic "C" on the just-released 2011 Premature Birth Report Card from the March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization dedicated to pregnancy and baby health.
What's more, states vary widely on the job they do of preventing premature births, those that occur before 37 weeks gestation. Three states and Puerto Rico received an F; 11 states and Washington, DC earned a D and 19 states got a C. Only 16 states received a B and just one -- Vermont -- earned an A. (Wondering about your state? Find out here.)
Prematurity is the leading cause of death in newborns in the U.S. and can cause a host of health complications from intellectual disabilities and breathing problems to cerebral palsy and digestive issues. With one in 8 babies born early here, our prematurity rate is higher than most developed nations.
The good news is that the overall rate of preterm birth in the United States dropped slightly, to 12.2 percent in 2009, from its high three years earlier. The decline was due to lower rates of smoking among moms-to-be, a reduction in the number of elective c-sections and inductions scheduled before 39 weeks of pregnancy, and new treatments (such as progesterone) which can prevent some preterm births.
"The three-year improvement in the U.S. preterm birth rate means that 40,000 more babies were given a healthy start in life and spared the risk of life-long health consequences of an early birth," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "It means that, nationwide, we saved at least $2 billion in health care and socio-economic costs. Now we owe it to the other half a million infants who were born too soon to work together to give them the same chance."