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    Slight Improvements in Preterm Birth Rates

    U.S. Still Behind Other Industrialized Countries

    National Rate Improves Slightly continued...

    “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,” Jennifer L. Howse, PhD, president of the March of Dimes, says in a news release. “The two-year decline we have seen nationwide, though small, is 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 report’s findings were released on the 8th Annual Prematurity Awareness Day and also when U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin, MD, introduced a new public service awareness announcement about preterm birth. “As a family doctor, I’ve seen the terrible impact of premature birth,” Benjamin says in a news release. “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. We have to do better.”

    A Global Problem

    Worldwide, an estimated 13 million babies are born premature or before 37 weeks' gestation and 1 million die as a result of an early birth. In the U.S., more than a half million babies are born premature every year. Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death, and those infants who survive face a risk of several disabilities, including respiratory problems, developmental problems, cerebral palsy, and learning disabilities.

    The final weeks of pregnancy are critical because an infant’s organs aren’t fully developed until after 37 weeks' gestation. The March of Dimes recommends reducing the risk of premature birth by increasing preconception and prenatal care, reducing smoking, avoiding multiples from fertility treatments, and avoiding unnecessary cesarean deliveries and inductions before 39 weeks of pregnancy.

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