Premature Birth Report Card: How Safe Is It to Deliver in Your State?

Fewer babies are being born early, but the US still has a long way to go -- and some states scored better than others

You want the good news or the bad news first?

The March of Dimes, the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, has released its annual Premature Birth Report Card, and it turns out fewer babies are being born too early. In fact, the preterm birth rate is at a 15-year low -- that’s a 10 percent decline since 2006, which translates to around 176,000 additional babies who enjoyed the health benefits of making it to term. Six states -- Alaska, California, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont -- earned an “A” for their efforts to prevent prematurity.

However, despite this encouraging trend, the US still earned a middling C overall from the organization. "Although we have made great progress in reducing our nation’s preterm birth rate from historic highs, the US still has the highest rate of preterm birth of any industrialized country," said March of Dimes President Dr. Jennifer L. Howse in a press release. "We must continue to invest in premature birth prevention because every baby deserves a healthy start in life."

Some of the progress is due to efforts to educate women and their doctors about the downsides of early elective deliveries before 39 weeks. California, in particular, where 12 percent of births in the US take place, led this effort by developing a hospital tool kit with programs to prevent these early inductions. Also, the very definition of what constitutes a full-term pregnancy has now changed to 39-40 weeks (formerly 37 weeks). It’s unclear how this new yardstick for healthy pregnancy will be used next year to determine preterm birth rates.

Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death and a major health problem in the US, costing an extra $26 million annually, according to the Institute of Medicine. Babies born early can face a range of health issues, including breathing problems, jaundice, developmental delays, vision loss and cerebral palsy.

What grade did your state earn? Check out the report card map.

 

March of Dimes Report Card Map

March of Dimes

 

Mom of two Sasha Emmons is a writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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