The rate of premature births in the United States is on the rise, according to March of Dimes, a nonprofit child and maternal health organization.
On Tuesday, the organization released its annual “checkup” on maternal and child health, which involves a newly updated counting system. Taking an in-depth look at premature births, the new report found that the rate of premature births in the United States rose to 10.5% last year, which represents a 4% increase since 2020 and the worst national rate since. that March of Dimes began tracking this data in 2007, based on its new calculation system.
“This is actually a 15-year high in the rate of premature births in this country,” said Dr. Zsakeba Henderson, senior vice president and acting chief medical officer at March of Dimes.
The rate of premature births in the United States peaked in 2006 at 12.8%, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
Since then, some March of Dimes reports have found U.S. preterm birth rates well over 10.5%, but those rates were based on calculations that have since been updated, according to March of Dimes.
“Too many babies are born too early: 1 in 10. If you were to have 10 babies in front of you and one of them had to deal with the complications that come with being premature, that is unacceptable, and we we have to do better. said Henderson, adding that those 1 in 10 are more likely to be black, Native American or Alaska Native.
March of Dimes data in the new report shows that infants born to black and Native American mothers are 62% more likely to be born prematurely than those born to white women.
The new March of Dimes report also highlighted state-to-state differences in the rate of babies born prematurely across the country.
The report classifies a preterm birth rate of 7.7% or less as an A and a preterm birth rate of 11.5% or more as an F.
The national preterm birth rate of 10.5% is classified as D+.
No state has achieved an A rate, and only one has a state-level preterm birth rate that would be rated A-: Vermont, which has the lowest preterm birth rate in the United States at 8 %.
Meanwhile, nine states and one territory have preterm birth rates that received an F grade: Georgia and Oklahoma with 11.9%; Arkansas, Kentucky and Puerto Rico with 12%; South Carolina with 12.1%; West Virginia with 12.8%; Alabama with 13.1%; Louisiana with 13.5%; and Mississippi with the highest premature birth rate of any state at 15%.
“The areas with the worst ratings are the same areas we’ve been seeing regularly for a long time, and it’s high time for us to do what we need to do to improve health and make our country a better place to give birth. and be born,” Henderson said. “It’s unfortunate that we don’t have policies in place to protect our nation’s most vulnerable, and without protecting our mothers and babies, we cannot ensure the health of everyone else. .”
To address these state-to-state disparities in preterm birth and help improve the national preterm birth rate overall, March of Dimes has advocated for certain policies, Henderson said, including the “Momnibus on Black Maternal Health of 2021, a broad bipartisan package of bills aimed at providing prenatal and postnatal support for Black mothers — but most of the bills in the package are still pending in Congress.
March of Dimes also urged more states to pass legislation expanding access to doulas and midwives, among other maternal health care services, and reduce the prevalence of maternity care deserts across the country. .
There are many potential factors contributing to the rising rate of premature births in the country, and Henderson said the Covid-19 pandemic remains one of the most significant.
“We cannot forget the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and recognize that there is probably a huge contribution to this, knowing that infection with Covid-19 increases the risk of premature delivery”, a- she declared. “But we also know that this pandemic has brought many other issues to the fore, knowing that issues of structural racism and barriers to adequate prenatal care, issues of access, have also come to the fore during this pandemic. .”
She added that many mothers in the United States start pregnancies later in life and that there has been an increase in the number of mothers with chronic health conditions, who are at higher risk of having to give birth early in life. due to pregnancy complications.
Henderson also said premature birth is a leading cause of infant death and disproportionately affects babies born to women of color.
“The United States is one of the worst places to give birth and be born among industrialized countries, unfortunately. When we look at maternal deaths and infant deaths, we are at the bottom of the pack among countries with similar profiles in terms of gross domestic product,” Henderson said. “It’s because of our disproportionate number of preterm births — especially for populations that are disproportionately affected, like black families and Native American and Alaskan Native families — that our rates are so much higher than in other countries.”
Globally, approximately 10% of births are preterm worldwide, which is similar to the preterm birth rate in the United States.
About 15 million babies are born prematurely each year, representing more than 1 in 10 births globally, according to the World Health Organization, which has called prematurity an “urgent public health problem” and a “leading cause death in children under 5 years old.
Independent of the March of Dimes report, the WHO released new guidelines on Tuesday on how countries can improve the survival and health of babies born too early, at 37 weeks gestation or less, or too small, at 5½ pounds. or less.
These WHO recommendations advise that skin-to-skin contact, also known as kangaroo mother care, be provided to a premature infant immediately after birth, without any initial time spent in an incubator.
“Previously, we recommended that kangaroo mother care should only be reserved for fully stable babies,” said pediatrician Dr Karen Edmond, WHO’s medical officer in charge of neonatal health, who spearheaded the new guidelines. .
“But now we know that if we put babies in skin-to-skin contact, unless they’re really seriously ill, it will dramatically increase their chances of survival,” she said. “So what’s new is that we now know that we should be providing care for the mother kangaroo immediately after birth, rather than waiting for the baby to be stable.”
Edmond added that immediate kangaroo mother care can help infants better regulate their body temperature and protect themselves from infections, and she said these guidelines are for on-the-ground healthcare providers as well as to families.
The new WHO guidelines also recommend that emotional, financial and professional support be provided to families of babies born too early or with low birth weight.
“Premature babies can survive, thrive and change the world – but every baby should have that chance,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press release.
“These guidelines show that improving outcomes for these tiny babies is not always about providing the most advanced solutions,” he said, “but rather about ensuring access to essential patient-centered healthcare. family needs”.