Pennsylvania’s preterm birth rate dropped from 11% to 10.8%, earning another “B” on the March of Dimes Foundation’s annual report card.
The state also earned a gold star for bringing late preterm births, babies born between 34 and 37 weeks, down to 7.4% and reducing the percentage of uninsured woman of child-bearing age and the number of female smokers.
But this isn’t something to run home and hang on the fridge.
Dolores Smith, state director of program services for March of Dimes said there’s more that can be done and things like high-tech intensive care nurseries give mothers a false sense of security when it comes to preterm births.
“People think that if a baby’s born a couple weeks early it’s not a big deal,” she said, “but more and more of our research is showing that it is a huge complicated problem and that some children will have lifelong effects simply because they were born too small and too soon.”
Smith also warned of preventable preterm births, where mothers are induced out of their own convenience.
“Those weeks are really important to the development of that unborn child,” she said. “Their vision, their hearing, their breathing, their swallowing, their abilities to maintain their heat, their temperature—all requires them to stay unborn as long as possible.”
Smith said reducing the number of preterm births has its economic effects.
Births before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy cost the United States more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine.
“Babies that are born even a few weeks preterm spend a good bit of time in the newborn intensive care nursery,” Smith said. “It’s an expensive place because it’s highly complex care, but some of those children will go home and still have long-term effects.”
The U.S. received a “C” on its report card and 31 states saw a decline in preterm birth rates.