For the past eight years, the March of Dimes has issued a report card on preterm issues a report card on preterm birth in the U.S. This year, as in the past, the results are shockingly high for a wealthy country even though progress has been made.
The report card shows the prematurity rates across the states and in several major cities.
Babies born too soon, before 37 weeks in the womb, can face serious, lifelong health problems if they survive. They can include breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, cerebral palsy and intellectual delays.
In addition, prematurity is the leading cause of infant death worldwide. About 15 million babies across the globe are born prematurely, and about a million of them die.
The overall rate of prematurity in the U.S. has dropped by nearly three percent since 2010, according to the March of Dimes' report. In 2010, it stood at 12.3 percent. In 2014, the rate dropped to 9.6 percent in 2014.
'Progress is not victory'
In a Skype interview, Dr. Edward McCabe, the chief medical officer of the March of Dimes said, "Even though the country has made progress, progress is not victory, and we still rate among the worst among the high resource countries in the world."
McCabe said the prematurity rate for some parts of the U.S. is higher than in some developing countries. For example, a baby born in Shreveport, Louisiana, has a nearly 20 percent chance of being born prematurely compared to a 12 percent chance in some of the poorest nations of the world.
Other findings show that Portland, Oregon, has the lowest preterm birth rate of the top 100 U.S. cities. With respect to the states, those with the highest rates of prematurity include Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, also is among the worst.
Those with the lowest rates include Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Vermont. McCabe said there is a reason why the March of Dimes graded cities and states in this year's report.
"The March of Dimes thinks we have to work strategically. That’s why were looking at the cities and what their rates are and why were looking at the cities, and how the cities’ rates compare to the overall state rates and why were looking at health disparities," he said.
The report found racial and ethnic differences as well.
McCabe said African-American women are the most likely to have premature babies. Native Americans and Hispanics also have higher rates than whites and Asian-Americans.
"It’s an issue of access to prenatal care, preconception care and chronic conditions in that population," McCabe said.
McCabe added that a group of Somali immigrants in Ohio does not have the same high rates of preterm births. The March of Dimes is studying that group to see what the differences are.
While we don't know all the reasons a baby is born prematurely, McCabe said, there are things a woman can do to ensure her baby's health: avoid alcohol, cigarettes and illegal drugs, get prenatal health care and even visit a doctor well before conception so a woman can improve her health and address any chronic health issues before she becomes pregnant.
Another critical thing, McCabe said is spacing babies at least 18 months apart so the woman has the best chance of recovering from a previous pregnancy and her body is ready to bear another child.
He said part of the problem may be that women are getting pregnant too soon after they deliver.
The March of Dimes now wants to reduce the preterm birth rate even more, to about 8 percent by 2020 and to 5.5 percent by 2030.