Premature births on the rise in the US says March of Dimes report

The annual report on preterm births from March of Dimes was released and the results show that there has been a consistent rise in rates of preterm births for three consecutive years.

Premature newborn baby girl in the hospital incubator after c-section at 33 weeks. Image Credit: OndroM / Shutterstock
Premature newborn baby girl in the hospital incubator after c-section at 33 weeks. Image Credit: OndroM / Shutterstock

Preterm birth is defines as birth at 20 to 37 weeks of pregnancy wherein the baby is not fully developed and equipped to survive on its own says the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Babies born prematurely are at risk of several developmental problems even later in life. The CDC says that they are at risk of vision and hearing problems as well as cerebral palsy.

The report states that in 2017 the preterm birth rate was 9.93 percent. It was 9.85 percent in 2016. The data comes from the records of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Becky Russell, the senior director of applied research and evaluation at March of Dimes says that this rise from 2016 to 2017 may seem small but actually means that around 3000 more babies were born prematurely in 2017 compared to the year before that. She added that since 2014 the rise means 27000 more babies are born prematurely in 2017. Mississippi had the highest rate of preterm births at 13.6 percent followed by Louisiana with 12.7 percent. Alabama and West Virginia also have rates over 12 percent says the report. The lowest rates of preterm births were seen in Vermont at 7.5 percent.

According to the March of Dimes, preterm births are the leading cause of death among babies less than five years of age around the globe. Stacey D. Stewart, president of March of Dimes called this rise an “alarming trend”.  Experts have tried to understand the cause behind this trend and higher maternal age at which babies are born is cited to be one of the reasons. Mothers having their babies in their 40s risk having preterm deliveries say experts. Some studies have shown that older fathers are also one of the causes of preterm deliveries and complications at birth.

Some experts have said that there is inequality in healthcare access. This could mean lack of adequate antenatal care and end up in raising the preterm deliveries. Those from certain racial and ethnic backgrounds and those who are uninsured and from lower socioeconomic status are more likely to have preterm deliveries, the experts say. The highest risk of preterm births was among African-American women at 13.4 percent (between 2014 and 2016). Black women had a 49 percent higher rate of preterm births compared to women of other ethnicities and races says the report. The racial differences have worsened over the last few years says the report. Lack of adequate education in the mother and suitable alteration of risky lifestyle habits is important for a health pregnancy and delivery. In many of these cases there is persistent lacunae, explain the researchers.

The March of Dimes is working towards understanding the various causes of preterm births and trying to plug the gaps. Government support is necessary to reduce the numbers they add. Stewart explains that government should be launching nationwide programs to provide adequate medical and emotional support to pregnant women. Stress could play a role in preterm births she said. She added that pregnant women themselves can make changes in their lifestyle to prevent preterm births. This includes quitting tobacco use and preventing obesity with a healthy diet plan. Good prenatal care and obstetric care can control high blood pressure and diabetes and prevent preterm births explain the researchers.

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