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Sarah Yang

The U.S.’s Preterm Birth Rate Is Worse Than 130 Other Countries (Ouch!)

PUBLISHED ON 05/02/2012

Here’s some surprising news — the U.S. ranks 131st when it comes to low preterm birth rates. According to a new report, “Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth” by The March of Dimes Foundation, The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, Save the Children and The World Health Organization, 15 million babies worldwide are born preterm every year. More than one million of those babies die from preterm complications – these babies could have been saved if cost-effective care like warmth, breastfeeding support and basic care for infections and breathing difficulties were offered. Babies are considered preterm if they are born before 37 weeks gestation. Health issues associated with preterm birth are breathing problems, developmental problems, cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities. According to the Institute of Medicine, preterm birth costs more than $26 billion annually.

The U.S. currently has a preterm birth rate of 12.0 per 100 live births and is almost tied with Somalia, Thailand and Turkey. While over 60% of preterm births occur in Africa and South Asia, the 10 countries with the highest numbers include Brazil, the United States, India and Nigeria. There is also a dramatic survival gap between preterm babies born in low-income countries and those who live in high-income countries – over 90% of extremely preterm babies (born before 28 weeks gestation) die a few days after birth, while only 10% of extremely preterm babies in high-income countries die after a few days.

The new report finds that preterm birth rates are increasing worldwide each year and nearly half a million babies are born too soon in the U.S. every year. “This report offers conclusive evidence that the United States rate of preterm birth has been far too high for far too long,” says Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “While our country excels in helping preemies survive, we have failed to do enough to prevent preterm births and help more mothers carry their babies full-term.”

The March of Dimes has recommendations to prevent preterm births in the United States: giving women access to health care, behavioral changes like quitting smoking, progesterone treatments for women who have had a previous preterm birth, better management of fertility treatments that result in multiples and making sure hospitals do not offer early inductions or c-sections before 39 weeks gestation if the mother is having a healthy pregnancy.

What do you think of these stats? Are you worried about preterm birth?

PHOTO: Getty Images