The March of Dimes released new data on Monday that shows there has been a decline in the number of babies born prematurely in the United States. The data comes after the US stillbirth rate exceeded the US death rate for the first time ever in 2016.
But the March of Dimes is not only celebrating the elimination of premature births, it is warning that there is still more work to be done.
“This report continues to show that there is no question that less than 1% of newborns die from a preterm birth. That’s good news. But we still have a long way to go to eliminate preterm birth and reduce stillbirth,” said Dr Keri Kaufman, chief medical officer for the March of Dimes.
The statistics, which cover the year 2016, are drawn from birth certificates, which provide a more accurate estimate of deaths due to pregnancy than death certificates. About one in eight babies are born premature. Premature births are defined as children who are born before 37 weeks gestation.
The April 2016 report is the first since the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, and the good news is that the rate dropped by 12% between 2012 and 2016, according to the data released today. This represents fewer than 1.3 million fewer premature births in the US.
Preterm births account for nearly 2 million deaths worldwide annually, about one in every three deaths among children under the age of five, and it is one of the leading causes of newborn deaths.
“We can celebrate a significant reduction in preterm births but we should remember that our work is not done,” said Dr Rehan Iqbal, medical director of March of Dimes health and pregnancy program. ““It’s important to note that we still have a long way to go. There is still not a single state or county in the US that has eliminated preterm birth.”
Despite the drop in the number of preterm births, the March of Dimes is also sounding a warning. The number of stillbirths – babies who die before a certain amount of time after birth – is up 7% in the US. Experts believe there are many reasons that the stillbirth rate increased in 2016, including: higher infant mortality rates, and more deaths occurring in unmarried mothers.
Maternal obesity and higher levels of consumption of energy-dense junk food and soda have been linked to higher stillbirth rates. According to the March of Dimes, high infant mortality rates account for more than a quarter of stillbirths. Experts say obesity is the leading cause of premature births in the US. Some who study the role of obesity in premature births claim that 5% of preterm births may be related to obesity and lower-performing maternal-fetal metabolic profiles. Others believe that pregnant women’s obesity may be affecting fetal delivery or the early stages of pregnancy.
For the first time, the March of Dimes compiled information about women who give birth to multiple fetuses during pregnancy to see if there was a link to higher rates of stillbirth. Although the rate of multiple births has decreased slightly in recent years, experts say it is too early to tell if the reduction in stillbirth is related to the decrease in multiple births.