US Ranks Behind Many Countries in Preterm Birth Prevention
Credit: Vanessa Van Rensburg | Dreamstime

Each year, more than one in 10 babies worldwide are born prematurely, a new report finds.

The report ranks the United States No. 131 in the world in terms of its preterm birth rate, ranking behind many poorer nations. With more nearly half a million babies born prematurely in the United States each year, or 12 per 100 live births, the country's preterm birth rate is nearly tied with that of Somalia, Thailand and Turkey, the report says.

"This report offers conclusive evidence that the United States rate of preterm birth has been far too high for far too long," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes, one of the organizations that put together the report. "While our country excels in helping preemies survive, we have failed to do enough to prevent preterm births and help more mothers carry their babies full-term," Howse said.

The report is the first to estimate preterm birth rates by country. It found that 15 million babies worldwide are born preterm each year, and more than 1 million die due to preterm complications. Birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy is considered premature.

Preterm birth can cause lifelong problems, including breathing problems, cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities.

Howse said the burden of preterm birth could be reduced with health interventions available now, including:

  • giving all women of childbearing age in the U.S. access to health care, including adolescents, and including care before, between and during pregnancy;
  • behavioral changes to reduce the risk of an early birth, such as not smoking during pregnancy;
  • progesterone treatments for women who have had a previous preterm birth;
  • better management of fertility treatments that result in multiple gestations (twins, triplets or higher);
  • hospital initiatives to reduce early inductions and cesarean deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy, unless medically necessary

Of the 65 countries for which there is reliable data, all but three showed an increase in preterm birth rates over the past 20 years, the report said.

Better measurement of birth rates, increases in the age of the mother and greater use of infertility treatments are possible reasons for the increase.

Pass it on: A new report says that 130 countries have lower preterm birth rates than the United States.

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