WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – More than 23,500 babies were spared the serious health consequences of an early birth in 2008, according to new data released today by the National Center for Health Statistics.
According to the National Vital Statistics Report, Births Final Data 2008, 523,033 infants were born preterm, before 37 weeks of pregnancy, in 2008, down from a high of 546,602 in 2007.
The federal report contains detailed national birth information on a variety of maternal and infant health issues. For the first time, the report provides data on the percentage of newborns that fall into the gray area of “early term.” These babies, who are born at 37 and 38 weeks of pregnancy are not preterm, nor do they meet the criteria for full-term because they were born before 39 weeks of pregnancy. However, these early term infants have higher death rates and are more likely to have health problems than full-term infants (39 to 41 weeks of pregnancy). In 2008, about 28 percent of infants fell into this early term category and only about 54 percent of infants were delivered at full-term, according to the report.
“Every week of pregnancy is important to a baby’s health and the last weeks are critical because many important organs, including the brain, are not completely developed until then,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “The fact that 23,500 fewer babies were born preterm is encouraging and we hope it’s the start of a trend because there still are more than half a million babies are born too soon in the U.S. each year, and premature birth is the leading cause of newborn deaths.”
Preterm birth is a serious health problem that costs the United States more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine. 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 infants born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and health problems than full-term infants.
Following three decades of increases, in 2008 the nation saw the first two-year decline in the preterm birth rate, a 4 percent drop from 2006. The 2008 final preterm birth rate dropped to 12.3 percent, from the 2006 final rate of 12.8 percent. There were declines in the preterm birth rates for all racial and ethnic groups, according to the report.
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. For detailed national, state and local perinatal statistics, visit PeriStats at marchofdimes.com/peristats. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.