Illinois shows six-year improvement in preterm birth rate

November 1, 2013

Online Staff Report

CHICAGO — Illinois lowered its preterm birth rate, giving more babies a healthy start in life and contributing to the national six-year improving trend.

Illinois lowered its preterm birth rate, but not enough to change its grade. It again earned a “C” grade on the report card. The 2012 preterm birth rate was 12 percent, down from 12.1 percent in 2011.

Partnerships with our state health officials and local hospitals have helped us make newborn health a priority and lowered our preterm birth rate, making a difference in babies’ lives,” said Dr. William Grobman, maternal fetal medicine specialist at Northwestern University and chairman of the March of Dimes Program Services Committee. “We will continue to work to give all babies a healthy start in life because too many still are born too soon, before their lungs, brains or other organs are fully developed.”

In Illinois, the March of Dimes is supporting hospital efforts to end early elective deliveries and group prenatal education programs that will help women have full-term pregnancies and healthy babies.

Illinois is part of a national trend toward improved preterm birth rates. On the 2013 Report Card, 31 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, including Illinois saw improvement in their preterm birth rates between 2011 and 2012. Nationwide, the largest declines in premature birth occurred among babies born at 34 to 36 weeks of pregnancy, but the improvement was across the board. Every racial and ethnic group benefited, and the preterm birth rates for babies born at all stages of pregnancy improved.

Almost every state saw its preterm birth rate decline since 2006, the national peak.

In Illinois, the rate of late preterm births is 8.3 percent, the rate of women smoking is 18.2 percent, and the rate of uninsured women is 18.3 percent.

These factors contribute to improved infant health in Illinois. It earned a star on the report card for reducing the percent of uninsured women of child-bearing age and lowering the late preterm birth rate.

These improvements mean not just healthier babies, but also a potential savings in health care and economic costs to society.

The March of Dimes attributed the improved rates to an expansion of successful programs and interventions, including actions by state health officials in all states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico who formally set goals to lower their preterm birth rates 8 percent by 2014 from their 2009 rate.

We will continue to work together to improve access to health care, help women quit smoking and, through our Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait consumer education campaign, encourage women and health care providers to avoid scheduling a delivery before 39 weeks of pregnancy unless medically necessary,” Grobman added.

The United States again received a “C” on the March of Dimes Report Card. Grades are based on comparing each state’s and the nation’s 2012 preliminary preterm birth rates with the March of Dimes’ 2020 goal of 9.6 percent of all live births. The U.S. preterm birth rate is 11.5 percent, a decline of 10 percent from the peak of 12.8 percent in 2006. The Report Card information for the U.S. and states will be available online at marchofdimes.com/reportcard.

Premature birth, birth before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy, is a serious health problem that costs the United States more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine. It is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifetime health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and others. Even babies born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants. At least 39 weeks of pregnancy are important to a baby’s health because many important organs, including the brain and lungs, are not completely developed until then.

Nov. 17, partners from around the world will mark the Third World Prematurity Day in support of the Every Woman Every Child effort led by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. An estimated 15 million babies are born premature, and of those, more than a million die as a result of their early birth.

Families and volunteers can observe World Prematurity Day by sending their friends a “virtual hug” to show they care about premature babies. The “Hugs” campaign dramatizes the benefits of Kangaroo care, which is when parents cuddle their premature baby skin-to-skin. Kangaroo care is one of the most comforting things parents can do for their child. It helps keep the baby warm, stabilizes the baby’s heart rate and helps the baby gain weight.

In 2013, the March of Dimes celebrates its 75th anniversary and its ongoing work to help babies get a healthy start in life. Early research led to the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines that all babies still receive. Other breakthroughs include new treatments for premature infants and children with birth defects. About 4 million babies are born each year in the United States, and all have benefited from the March of Dimes’ life-saving research and education.

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.com or nacersano.org.

Posted Nov. 1, 2013

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