Pennsylvania was awarded its highest rating on premature births in 2011 since the March of Dimes began its grading system five years ago.
Pennsylvania decreased the percentage of babies born prematurely to 11 percent, from 11.8 percent in 2006.
Dr. Ronald Thomas, Director of the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine at West Penn Allegheny, said there is no clear answer to what causes preterm births. He said there are several factors that could put a baby at risk of being born prematurely. These include mothers who smoke, don’t have prenatal care or insurance, and who have had a prior pre-term birth.
Thomas said Pennsylvania is part of a national effort to reduce the number of preemies and one of 16 states to do so this year. The state has set a goal to reduce the preterm birthrate by 8 percent by 2014.
Thomas said the biggest improvement made was decreasing the number of “late preterm births.”
“The big push there nationally has been not to electively deliver patients prior to 39 weeks,” said Thomas. “A lot of times there’s a lot of social pressure, there’s a lot of convenience factor tied to that.”
The report card did state that Pennsylvania was “moving in the wrong direction” on health insurance. The percentage of uninsured women rose from 14 to 15.1 percent in the past year.
Thomas said the state should also tackle tobacco usage by expecting mothers.
“In cases where there’s a clear, clear explanation such as tobacco smoke, I think we need to be just much, much, much more aggressive about decreasing the number of women smoking,” said Thomas. “And, quite honestly, the easiest way to do that is just to decrease smoking amongst the population.”
Four states received an “A” grade from the March of Dimes this year, including Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Oregon. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Puerto Rico all received “F”s.