More than 1,000 fewer babies died before celebrating their first birthday between 2007 and 2008, and many of them had the benefit of a full-term pregnancy, according to data released today by the National Center for Health Statistics.
The United States infant mortality rate declined 2 percent from 2007 to 2008. The rate dropped to 6.61 from 6.75 deaths for every 1,000 live births. The NCHS report found that all of this decrease in the infant mortality rate can be accounted for by a decrease in preterm births. While infant mortality rates were relatively unchanged between 2000 and 2005, this recent improvement represents a 4 percent decline in infant mortality since 2000 and a 13 percent decline since 1995.
"This data conclusively demonstrates that preventing premature birth saves lives," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse president of the March of Dimes. "But 28,000 babies still did not live to see their first birthday. No parent should ever have to experience the pain of losing a child from prematurity, or from any other cause."
The U.S. preterm birth rate peaked in 2006 at 12.8 percent. It has dropped for four consecutive years to just less than 12 percent in 2010. The March of Dimes says that much of this improvement can be attributed to a decline in the rate of infants born just a few weeks early, which may be linked to better hospital practices that discourage elective early deliveries that can result in premature births.
Nearly half a million babies are born too soon in the U.S. each year. Those who survive face an increased risk of life-long health challenges, including cerebral palsy, breathing problems, intellectual disabilities and other problems.
According to a new report on preterm birth around the world, Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth, issued earlier this month, more than 15 million babies worldwide are born preterm and 1.1 million of these babies die as a result of their early birth.