Preterm Births in the U.S. Hit a 17-Year Low! (But It's Not All Good News)

Because I carried multiples—and a major risk in such pregnancies is preterm delivery—early labor was very much on my mind this year. And that's why today, I'm especially happy to report some real good news from the March of Dimes.

According to the org's annual Premature Birth Report Card, the national preterm birth rate fell to 11.4 percent last year. That's the lowest in 17 years—and the figure means we as a nation met the federal Healthy People 2020 goal seven years early. Hooray for us mamas!

More than 450,000 babies were born premature in 2013, compared to 2006's figure of 542,893; that's when the unfortunate stat peaked. The March of Dimes attributes the improvement to sustained interventions put in place by states, saving close to $12 billion in healthcare and other costs—given that medical expenses for the average premature infant are about $54,000 versus $4,000 for a healthy newborn baby.

Preterm birth is the leading cause of newborn death, by the way, and babies who survive after early delivery aren't out of the woods, of course, with many suffering problems with breathing, jaundice, development, vision, and cerebral palsy.

So the reduction in premature births is a terrific thing. But unfortunately, the news isn't all good. The U.S. still received a "C" grade on its report card because it missed the ambitious 9.6 percent goal set by the group.

"I'm proud to report that the national preterm birth rate fell for the seventh consecutive year [and was] the lowest in 17 years! We're celebrating," March of Dimes president Dr. Jennifer L. Howse told Parents.com exclusively. "[But] we still have a long way to go before every baby gets a healthy starts in life."

On the state level, 27 states and Puerto Rico saw their preterm birth rates improve between 2012 and 2013. Five states earned an "A," including my home of California (woo hoo!), plus Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Vermont. Sadly, three states and Puerto Rico, received an "F." 

With its "Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait Campaign"—including a fun bump-selfie PSA—the March of Dimes taken a creative approach to encouraging mamas-to-be to make it to 39 weeks unless an early delivery is medically necessary. And apparently it's working! Let's keep at it.

Early labor happens anytime before 37 weeks. Learn about the signs and different ways your doctor might try to slow down the labor.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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