The rise is being driven mainly by worsening rates among specific racial and ethnic groups as well as geographic areas.

premature baby girl
Credit: OndroM/Shutterstock

The U.S. has just been issued a grade of C on the 2016 March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card. Why? Because for the first time in eight years, the preterm birth rate in our country has gotten worse, rising to 9.63 from 9.57 (out of 100), with widening differences in prematurity rates across different races and ethnicities. In fact, preterm birth rates were nearly 48 percent higher among black women and 15 percent higher among American Indian/Alaska Native women compared to white women.

"There is an unfair burden of premature birth among specific racial and ethnic groups as well as geographic areas," explained Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "The March of Dimes strives for a world where every baby has a fair chance, yet we see this is not the reality for many mothers and babies. Babies in this country have different chances of surviving and thriving simply based on the circumstances of their birth."

Here's how it all breaks down: Four states—New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington—received a grade of A; 16 states a B; 21 states and the District of Columbia got a C; six states and Puerto Rico scored a D; and three states – Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi—received an F. Ouch.

According to March of Dimes spokesperson Michele Kling, part of the reason for the disparity is the fact that the issue of preterm birth has become too commonplace and accepted in all of our communities, "We must overcome this complacency," she told "We need to focus on overall prevention of preterm birth and on giving every baby in the United States a fair chance of being born full-term and healthy."

How? By using proven strategies to prevent premature birth like reducing early elective deliveries, increasing use of progesterone for women with a history of prior preterm birth, reducing tobacco use among pregnant women, and encouraging women not to get pregnant again until at least 18 months after giving birth (optimal birth spacing).

"The March of Dimes believes it is possible to lower the U.S. preterm birth rate to 5.5 percent by 2030," Kling told us. "This rate would put our country among the best of the high-resource countries of the world. We believe this goal can be achieved by broader application of the proven interventions in our most-challenged communities, and by innovative research on the causes of preterm birth to develop new strategies for prevention."

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website for more, and then follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.