Eight states earned a better grade on the 2010 March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card and 32 others and the District of Columbia saw their preterm birth rates improve.

Following three decades of increases, in 2008 the nation saw the first two-year decline in the preterm birth rate, a 4 percent drop from 2006. The 2008 preliminary preterm birth rate dropped to 12.3 percent, from the 2006 final rate of 12.8 percent. The March of Dimes says 79 percent of the decline was among babies born just a few weeks too soon.

Overall, the United States received a “D” on the report card, when national preterm birth rates are measured against the Healthy People 2010 goals. The United States has a high rate of preterm birth compared to top scoring states and, notably, most industrialized countries.
“The policy changes and programs to prevent preterm birth that our volunteers and staff have worked so hard to bring about are starting to pay off,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “The two-year decline we have seen nationwide, though small, are encouraging. We believe this decline is the beginning of a trend, but must be supported by better health care, new research and adoption of intervention programs to lower the risk of preterm birth.”

The March of Dimes released its 2010 report card today, the 8th Annual Prematurity Awareness Day®, when the nation is asked to focus attention on the growing problem of premature birth.

“As a family doctor, I’ve seen the terrible impact of premature birth,” said U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin, who today unveiled a new public service announcement about the serious problem of preterm birth. “It can cause life-long disabilities, and it is the leading cause of deaths in newborns.

“Our country has one of the highest rates of preterm birth in the world,” Benjamin said. “We have to do better.”

In the United States, more than half a million babies are born preterm each year. Preterm birth, birth before 37 weeks gestation, is a serious health problem that costs the United States 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 lifetime health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and others. Even infants born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants. The last few weeks of pregnancy are critical to a baby because many important organs, including the brain, are not completely developed until then.

On the 2010 report card, 17 states earned a “C,” 20 received a “D,” and 13 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico failed. However, most states saw improvement in at least one of the three contributing factors the March of Dimes tracks.

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

There are known strategies that can lower the risk of an early birth, such as smoking cessation, preconception care, early prenatal care, progesterone treatments for women with a history of preterm birth, avoiding multiples from fertility treatments and avoiding unnecessary c-sections and inductions before 39 weeks of pregnancy.

The March of Dimes offers programs and best practices to support health care professionals and consumers to address preterm birth, including:

• Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait®, is an innovative, community-based pilot project of health promotion and prematurity prevention aimed at reducing the singleton preterm birth rate. A March of Dimes partnership with the Kentucky Department for Public Health, and Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, it combines consumer awareness and education; screenings and referrals for women for treatable or preventable conditions; prenatal care and appropriate care between pregnancies; and professional education. Visit prematurityprevention.org for information.

• “Why the Last Weeks of Pregnancy Count,” a consumer brochure that explains the important development that occurs to a baby’s brain during the last few weeks of pregnancy. Used by doctors and nurses nationwide, it explains why it’s important to schedule an induction or c-section for non-medical reasons after 39 weeks of pregnancy and describes the baby’s growth and development in the last few weeks of pregnancy. More information is available at:

• “Elimination of Non-medically Indicated (Elective) Deliveries Before 39 Weeks Gestational Age” tool kit, which offers practices for clinicians and patients to better understand the consequences of early elective delivery and the importance of the last weeks of pregnancy. It includes case studies that can serve as models, from leading healthcare institutions nationwide that implemented policies and practices successfully lowering elective deliveries and preterm births. It is available from the March of Dimes:

• The Preterm Labor Assessment kit provides guidance for standardized assessment and diagnosis of preterm labor by health care professionals. It offers ‘best practice’ recommendations for uniform diagnosis of preterm labor, timely interventions, fewer unnecessary hospitalizations and treatments, improved allocation of scarce nursing and hospital resources and increased maternal-fetal safety. It is available from the March of Dimes at:

In addition to its efforts to prevent preterm birth in the United States, the March of Dimes also is developing partnerships with organizations worldwide. An estimated 13 million babies are born preterm and one million die as a result of their early birth, according to a March of Dimes report on the global toll of preterm birth.

March of Dimes Prematurity Awareness Day® is sponsored by CIGNA, FedEx, Destination Maternity and Hologic. On Nov. 17, Farmers Insurance, a March of Dimes sponsor, is sponsoring a six-hour marathon of the Discovery Health series NICU, which shows the experiences of babies fighting for their lives in a newborn intensive care unit.

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.com or nacersano.org. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Help fight for babies today! Join in the Fight for Preemies on Bloggers Unite, all you have to do is:

1. Visit marchofdimes.com/fight.
2. Put a badge on your blog to help spread the word.
3. On November 17, blog for a baby you love and to help others.

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