March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign: activities and milestones

In the United States, about 380,000 babies are born prematurely each year. Premature birth is birth that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies who survive often have long-term health problems, including cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, chronic lung disease, blindness and hearing loss.

Premature birth can happen to any pregnant woman. The March of Dimes has taken on this devastating problem — to find out what causes it and how it can be stopped.

After decades of increases, the rate of premature birth in the United States has now been on a steady decline for the last several years. This decline – to 9.6 percent (about 1 in 10 babies) – has saved thousands of babies from being born too soon. It also has saved our nation billions of dollars in excess health care costs. 

What are the goals of the Prematurity Campaign?

The March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign was launched on January 30, 2003. The Campaign has two goals:


  1. To raise public awareness of the problems of prematurity
  2. To decrease the rate of premature birth in the United States


The Campaign:

  • Funds research to find the causes of premature birth
  • Encourages investment of public and private research dollars to identify causes and to identify and test promising interventions
  • Educates women about risk-reduction strategies and the signs and symptoms of preterm labor
  • Provides information and emotional comfort to families affected by prematurity
  • Advocates to expand access to health care coverage to improve maternity care and infant health outcomes
  • Helps health care providers to improve risk detection and address risk factors
  • Generates concern and action around the problem

What are some important Campaign milestones?

Campaign milestones include: 
  • In 2004, the March of Dimes created the Prematurity Research Initiative, which funds promising, innovative research into the causes of prematurity. Nearly $17.4 million has been awarded to 55 grantees over the past 6 years, and the program has already produced promising discoveries.
  • In 2005, the Institute of Medicine published the report Preterm Birth: Causes, Consequences, and Prevention. Funded in part by the March of Dimes, this report thoroughly documented the impact of premature birth on families, the health care system and business; it also provided the first cost estimates.
  • In 2005, the March of Dimes initiated the PREEMIE (Prematurity Research Expansion and Education for Mothers Who Deliver Infants Early) Act. This act became law in 2006. It authorizes increased federal support for research and education on prematurity. Work continues on appropriation of funding to implement the act's provisions.
  • In 2008, the first Surgeon General’s Conference on the Prevention of Preterm Birth was held. This conference was called for as part of the PREEMIE Act and brought together experts from the public and private sectors. March of Dimes staff and volunteers were key participants in each of the six work groups that developed goals for an action plan. The goals were presented to the Surgeon General at the conclusion of the conference. Achieving the goals of this plan requires both private and public resources for broad-based research, capacity building, data systems, creation of interventions, quality initiatives and a comprehensive communications strategy.
  • In 2008, a March of Dimes board resolution extended the Prematurity Campaign to 2020 and established prematurity prevention as a global campaign.
  • In 2009, the March of Dimes sponsored the Symposium on Quality Improvement to Prevent Prematurity. The Symposium brought together an interdisciplinary group to discuss quality improvement as an essential strategy to prevent prematurity. Attendees explored the state of quality initiatives and developed an action agenda to decrease the rate of preterm birth.
  • In 2009, the March of Dimes issued the white paper The Global and Regional Toll of Preterm Birth. In 2005, an estimated 13 million babies worldwide were born preterm, almost 10 percent of total births worldwide. About 1 million deaths in the first month of life are attributable to premature birth. 
  • In 2012, Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth, was published by the March of Dimes, The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, Save the Children, and the World Health Organization, and represents almost 50 United Nations agencies, universities, and organizations. It contains the first-ever estimates of preterm birth rates by country.
  • In 2012, the March of Dimes set a goal of lowering the national preterm birth to 9.6 percent of all births by 2020. This goal can be achieved by a combination of activities: giving all women of childbearing age access to health care coverage, fully implementing proven interventions to reduce the risk of an early birth, such as not smoking during pregnancy, getting preconception and early prenatal care, progesterone treatments for women who are medically eligible, avoiding multiples from fertility treatments, avoiding elective c-sections and inductions before 39 weeks of pregnancy unless medically necessary, and by accelerating investment for new research on causes and prevention of premature birth.
  • In 2012, through Strong Start, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the March of Dimes is promoting its Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait campaign, which urges women and health care providers to avoid scheduling a medically unnecessary delivery before 39 weeks of pregnancy. This is because important development of the brain, lungs and other organs occur during the last few weeks of pregnancy.
  • In 2012, a new partnership between Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and the March of Dimes, has been established to prevent premature birth and infant mortality. State and territorial health departments have been invited to reduce premature birth by 8% in every state by 2014. 

Learn more about the progress and impact of the Prematurity Campaign.

Why is the March of Dimes fighting premature birth?

For more than 70 years, the March of Dimes has saved millions of babies and children from death and disability through our lifesaving research and innovative programs, as well as the work of dedicated volunteers. The March of Dimes was founded in 1938 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to defeat polio, a dreaded disease that claimed the lives and limbs of America's children in record numbers. Within 17 years, the Salk vaccine was developed, and polio was defeated.

The March of Dimes then turned its attention to an even greater challenge — fighting birth defects and other infant health problems. With a track record of success in bringing people together to solve complex health challenges, the March of Dimes is uniquely qualified to take on the problem of premature birth.

Last reviewed: October, 2015