According to a new study conducted by the March of Dimes, the rate of premature births has risen again for the third year in a row. The March of Dimes is a nonprofit organization that puts a focus on maternal and infant health. NPR is reporting on their annual premature birth report card, and the results are not good. Premature births were actually on the decline for around a decade, but as of 2016, the rates are rising again. The March of Dimes analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found that the rate of premature births in 2017 was 9.93 percent of births, which was slightly higher than 2016’s percentage of 9.83. Though these numbers don’t seem to be too far apart, Becky Russell, the senior director of applied research and evaluation at the March of Dimes, said the difference is actually significant. It accounts for about 3,000 more babies.
“If you look at the increases since 2014, cumulatively we’re talking about 27,000 babies,” Russell explained.
A baby has to be born before 37 weeks of gestation to be considered premature. Prematurity is one of the biggest causes of death for infants in the United States. Fortunately, the past few decades have seen improvement in the quality of neonatal care, resulting in more babies surviving. However, being premature can still come with other risks such as cerebral palsy, vision and hearing impairments, and developmental delays.
Though there isn’t one specific cause of this rising number of premature births, there are many theories as to what’s contributing to the rise. According to Russell, “unequal access to maternal care and high poverty rates” can increase the chances of a mother delivering prematurely. Jennifer Wider, MD, said racial issues can often go hand in hand with access to maternal care.
“Certain racial and ethnic minorities and lower socioeconomic regions are at higher risk of preterm birth in the U.S.,” Wider said in an interview with Yahoo. “Lack of education about a healthy pregnancy and prenatal care, as well as a lack of understanding about risk factors and behavioral habits that can ensure a healthy outcome, is another possible factor.”
Another factor that contributes to the rate of premature births is maternal age. Mothers are having babies at older ages than they used to, and an older age can increase the chances of delivering prematurely. Research is also starting to show that older fathers can contribute to an early delivery as well. The last big factor impacting the premature birth rate is preeclampsia and hypertension.
To help lower the rising rate of premature births, the March of Dimes is working to help pass bills that would help protect pregnant women. They also are working on providing programs to vulnerable populations that would help women access medical and emotional support. According to medical professionals, there are some things someone can do on an individual level to prevent a premature birth, such as making healthy lifestyle choices. Staying in shape and cutting out tobacco can decrease the chances of a premature birth, and staying educated is essential in increasing healthy pregnancies overall.