November is Prematurity Awareness Month here in the U.S. The WHO defines premature birth as birth occurring before 37 weeks of gestation. Until the 1990s, prematurity was characterized by birth weight. However, in recent years, gestational age has been recognized as the primary indicator of premature newborns’ physical and neurological maturation.
Research from the nonprofit organization March of Dimes shows the rate of premature birth in the United States remains high. Premature birth rates are particularly high in the Southern United States.
According to the organization’s annual “report card” on US maternal and infant health, released Thursday, the nation’s premature birth rate was 10.4% in 2022. It was down only 1% from the highest rate in more than a decade in 2021.
The March of Dimes rated the United States a D+ for its rate of premature births. Premature births are the leading cause of infant mortality in the country. The U.S. received a D+ from the March of Dimes last year as well.
Among developed countries, the United States has the highest rate of premature birth. In the United Kingdom, for example, the rate is 7.6%. It is 6.8% in Italy and roughly 5% in Japan. Globally, an estimated 13·4 million babies were born prematurely in 2020. This is a slight decrease from the estimated 13·8 million premature births in 2010.
According to National Center for Health Statistics data, the national premature birth rate peaked at 12.8% in 2006 after continuously climbing for more than two decades. The rate dipped to 9.8% in 2012 before rising to 10.4% last year, according to the new research.
There are geographic and racial disparities as well. Mississippi had the highest percentage of premature births at 14.8% followed by Louisiana at 13.2%. Alabama’s premature birth rate was 12.8% and West Virginia’s was 13% last year.
The March of Dimes report also found that babies born to Black women were more likely to be born prematurely. The premature birth rate among these babies was 1.5 times greater than the rate among all other babies. The rate was 14.6% among Black babies, 12.2% among American Indian, Alaska Native, and Pacific Islander babies, 10.1% among Hispanic babies, 9.4% among White babies, and 9% among Asian babies. Risk factors for premature birth include high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking during pregnancy, and carrying multiple babies.
Infants born prematurely are more likely to have hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic lung disease, pregnancy complications, and osteoporosis later in life, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Many people who were born prematurely can experience ADHD, depression, anxiety, or other conditions.
I was born prematurely in September 1999 in Kolkata, India. Cerebral Palsy was the result of a lack of oxygen to my brain during birth. According to The American Academy Of Pediatrics, the chance of developing Cerebral Palsy is high in babies born very prematurely; occurrence ranges between 7% and 20%.
Premature birth can have lifelong impacts. More should be done to educate parents about premature birth and the importance of prenatal care. Unfortunately, many people worldwide cannot access affordable, high-quality healthcare.
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