Rising Preterm Birth Rates: Who, What, Why and How

In 2016, nearly 10 percent of infants born in the United States were preterm. This means an estimated 15 million babies were born too early – before 37 weeks of gestation. When babies do not reach full-term development inside the womb, serious complications can result. According to the annual March of Dimes report, the number of preterm births has increased from 9.6 percent in 2015.

This problem certainly isn’t limited to the U.S., but it is alarming for an industrialized nation known for advanced medical care. The increase in preterm births raises concerns, especially when we consider who is impacted. Minorities account for a disproportionate amount of preterm births. In fact, the March of Dimes report states rates in some parts of the U.S. are “on par with those found in undeveloped countries in Africa and the Middle East.”

There is a clear correlation between low-income communities and higher rates of preterm births. Because of a variety of factors, such as an inability to receive the high-risk perinatal care needed, only about half of babies born at or before 32 weeks into low-income settings survive. Of course, the severity of complications differs based on how early the baby is born; typically, that’s any time from less than 28 weeks up to 37 weeks.

What kind of complications result from preterm birth? According to STAT News, “Preterm birth is the largest contributor to infant death in the United States and is linked to a range of lifelong disabilities and chronic conditions.” Those complications can be anything from neurological problems and learning disabilities to visual and hearing issues – plus a possible increase in infections because of an immature immune system. The resources and care available to babies born prematurely affect the rest of their lives.

Often, there isn’t one specific reason why preterm births occur; they can happen spontaneously, or be traced back to a number of factors. An NBC News article says “a lack of prenatal care, obesity, tobacco use and some fertility treatments can all lead to early births.” It also notes “teenagers and women who have babies spaced too closely” seem to have higher rates of preterm births. Conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure also can lead to preterm births.

The CDC recently examined social, personal and economic characteristics, medical conditions, and behavioral factors to determine who is at a higher risk of preterm birth. Some of the factors include:

• Low maternal income or socioeconomic status
• Carrying more than one baby
• High blood pressure during pregnancy
• Tobacco and alcohol use
• Stress

So what is the solution? How do we reverse the increasing preterm-birth trend? Fortunately, there are answers. The World Health Organization developed key guidelines for improving the outcomes of future preterm births. These include interventions for the mother – such as steroid injections before birth, or antibiotics when her water breaks ahead of time; and for the baby – such as thermal care and safe oxygen use. With the help of high-risk perinatal services, more than 75 percent of premature babies may be saved.

A healthy pregnancy and high-quality prenatal care can help prevent preterm births. Valley Perinatal Services offers top-of-the-line care for high-risk perinatal situations. As a maternal-fetal medicine practice focused on high-risk mothers, we strive to reduce preterm deliveries and create the best possible outcome for your baby.

Talk with your OB/GYN about co-managing your pregnancy with Valley Perinatal Services today. Contact us online or via phone at (480) 756-6000.