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Premature Births Hit Record Low (But They're Still Pretty High)

Premature births hit record low, but are still high

Experts have been warning against the high premature birth rate in the U.S. for years; and now, according to a new report from the March of Dimes, it seems we're finally making some strides. (Well, sort of.)

The preemie birth rate has apparently dropped to its lowest numbers in 15 years: 11.5 percent. It sounds pretty great at first ... until you consider the fact that we've still got the highest rate of any other industrialized nation.

So how did we get here? That one seems to have a complicated answer. For one, doctors used to be encouraged to induce early if a baby showed any signs of being stillborn; however, the risk of still birth is far too low to really justify it as a common practice. At the same time, too many women are still going uninsured throughout their entire pregnancies, which in turn leads to poor prenatal care, and higher risks for an early delivery.

Experts are able to tell that the highest rates occur among African American women, but it's not exactly clear why. Their rate of premature births has dipped—dropping from 18.5 percent in 2006 to 16.5 by 2013—but this is still an alarmingly high statistic.

Altogether, these factors contribute to a premature birth rate that costs the U.S. a whopping $26 million a year. And yet, according to the March of Dimes, about 20 percent of late preterm births (between 34 and 37 weeks of pregnancy) could actually be avoided if there were programs in place to encourage women to wait longer for delivery.

On the bright side, the American Academy of Pediatrics is doing its best to encourage doctors and moms to wait out pregnancies a bit longer—even going so far as to change the definition of what a "full-term pregnancy" really is. But, so far, there are only six states that have actually managed to meet the March of Dimes's desired 9.5 percent premature birth rate: Alaska, California, Oregon, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. As for the rest of us, though, it looks like we've still got a ways to go.

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