Forty states and the District of Columbia made improvements in reducing their rate of premature births. But the progress was small, and the nation as a whole still received a grade of D when it comes to the number of babies born before the full 37-week gestation, a new analysis by the March of Dimes shows.
The study found that the U.S. preterm birth rate ticked down to 12.3 percent in 2008 from 12.7 percent in 2007. It was the second decrease in as many years -- in 2006, the premature birth rate was 12.8 percent.
Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes, called the two-year decline nationwide "encouraging" though small.
"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," she said.
Each year in the U.S., more than half a million babies are born before the 37-week gestation period. Such preterm births represent a serious health problem that costs the US more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine.
It is the leading cause of newborn death, and the babies who survive are at a greater risk of lifetime health challenges such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities.
The March of Dimes study is based on state health statistics from 2008 -- the latest year available.
It also found that 17 states earned a “C,” 20 (including Pennsylvania and New Jersey) received a “D,” and 13 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico failed.
However, most states saw improvement in at least one of the three contributing factors the March of Dimes tracks: 28 states and Puerto Rico reduced the percentage of women of childbearing age who smoke; 17 states and the District of Columbia reduced the percentage of uninsured women of childbearing age;
and 37 states and Puerto Rico lowered the late preterm birth rate, infants born between 34 and 36 weeks gestation.
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Noteworthy cases include:
• $8 million settlement for a baby injured at birth from delay in delivery.
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• $5 million settlement for a baby who died from lung injuries suffered because the tubes to her isolette were improperly connected.
• $5 million settlement for a girl who was brain injured due to delay in delivery.
• $4 million settlement for a boy who was brain injured at birth due to delay in delivery.
• $2.5 million settlement for the parents of a newborn who suffered fatal injuries at the time of delivery
To learn more, click Birth Injuries.