Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier
WebMD

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine
WebMD

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion
    WebMD

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community
    WebMD

    Community

    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Health & Baby

Font Size
A
A
A

Rate of Premature Birth Hits New High in U.S.

CDC Says Preterm Births Now Make Up About 12% of All Births

Are Fertility Drugs to Blame?

There's certainly been an increase in the number of women using fertility drugs. These drugs increase the number of multiple births -- and twins, triplets, and other multiple babies are much more likely to be premature than singleton babies. But that's far from the whole answer.

"The preterm birth rate has been increasing fairly steadily for the last couple of decades for singleton births," Martin says. "Although multiple births have driven the preterm rate up somewhat, it is not responsible for the overall rise."

Howse notes that obese women are much more likely to have a premature baby than normal-weight women. As America's obesity epidemic continues, premature birth is yet another way the health effects are visited on a new generation.

Another cause of premature birth, Howse says, is the increasing lack of health insurance by women of childbearing age.

"One in five women of childbearing age lacks health insurance," she says. "That is a factor, and it is on the rise."

The X Factor

But the biggest cause of premature birth is something Howse calls factor X.

"Factor X is a mother who does everything right in her pregnancy. She has no known risks during her pregnancy. And yet she delivers preterm," Howse says. "Factor X accounts for one half of premature births. We do not know the reasons."

What's needed, Howse says, is vastly more research. Doctors don't know the full molecular biology of normal pregnancy. That black box may very well hold the key to reducing premature births and the death and disability premature birth leaves in its wake.

Teen Births Down, More Unmarried Moms

Not all the news from the CDC report is bad. The teen birth rate continues to drop. It fell by 3% to 41.6 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19. That's one-third of the peak rate seen in 1991.

The drop in teen births has been particularly dramatic among black teens. Their overall birth rate dropped by nearly half since 1991.

Other statistics from the new treasure trove of birth data:

  • There was a steep increase in childbearing among unmarried women. After eight years of little change, the birth rate for unmarried women aged 15-44 went up 3% to 44.9 births per 1,000. More than 1.4 unmarried U.S. women gave birth in 2003 -- the most in 60 years.
  • Moms are getting older. The birth rate for women aged 20-24 went down, while the birth rate for women aged 30-34 and 35-40 went up. The birth rate for women 40-44 soared by 5% to 8.7%. That's the highest it's been since 1969.
  • Low birth weight -- babies weighing 5.5 pounds or less -- went up to the highest level since 1970.
  • Cigarette smoking by pregnant women went down. But more than one in 10 pregnant women still smoke -- and about 25% of them smoke a half-pack or more per day.

1 | 2

Baby's First Year Newsletter

Because every week matters, get expert advice and facts on what to expect in your baby's first year.

Today on WebMD

mother on phone holding baby
When you should call 911.
parents and baby
Unexpected ways your life will change.
 
baby acne
What’s normal – and what’s not.
baby asleep on moms shoulder
Help your baby get the sleep he needs.
 

mother holding baby at night
ARTICLE
mother with sick child
QUIZ
 
Chinese mother breast feeding newborn baby girl
SLIDESHOW
Track Your Babys Vaccines
TOOL
 
Baby Napping 10 Dos And Donts
Slideshow
Woman holding feet up to camera
Article
 
Father kissing newborn baby
Article
baby gear slideshow
Slideshow