Drop In Early Births Would Mean Fewer Infant Deaths

March of Dimes Calls for Research to Prevent Preterm Birth

White Plains, New York | Tuesday, November 3, 2009

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The United States’ extraordinarily high number of babies born too soon explains why the nation has an infant death rate significantly higher when compared to Europe, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Cutting the U.S. preterm birth rate nearly in half to match Sweden’s would lower the US infant mortality rate one-third and mean nearly 8,000 more babies would live, the report found. Sweden has the second lowest infant mortality rate worldwide, 2.4 for every 1,000 live births, compared to the US rate of 6.9.

“Too many U.S. babies are born too soon each year and don’t live to celebrate their first birthday. This finding underscores the importance of supporting research to help us learn what causes preterm birth and how we can help give all babies a healthy start in life,” said Alan R. Fleischman, MD, medical director of the March of Dimes. “No parent should ever have to experience the pain of losing a child from prematurity.”

November marks the 7th Annual Prematurity Awareness Month®,, a time when the March of Dimes focuses the nation’s attention on the growing problem of premature birth (birth before 37 weeks gestation). Later this month, the March of Dimes will issue its 2009 Premature Birth Report Card. The report grades the nation and the states on their preterm birth rates and assesses states’ progress toward improving access to health care coverage for women of childbearing age, helping women quit smoking during pregnancy, and to preventing medically unnecessary c-sections prior to 39 weeks of pregnancy – three criteria that can reduce preterm birth rates.

In the United States, more than 540,000 babies are born too soon each year. Preterm birth is a serious health problem that costs the United States more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine. It is a leading cause of infant death, and babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifetime health challenges, including breathing problems, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and others. A March of Dimes report released in October found that 13 million babies worldwide were born preterm, and more than one million die each year.

The research, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and released today by the National Center for Health Statistics, analyzed infant death rates by gestational age for the United States and selected countries in Europe.

While survival rates for premature infants is similar between the United States and European countries, the overwhelming high number of preterm births in the United States drove its infant mortality rate higher. For example, one out of every eight US births are preterm, compared to one out of 16 in Sweden, which had an infant mortality rate of 2.4 for every 1,000 live births.

The report also found that for full-term infants, those born at 37 weeks gestation or more, the United States had the highest infant mortality rate of the 31 nations studied.


About March of Dimes

March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies. We support research, lead programs and provide education and advocacy so that every baby can have the best possible start. Building on a successful 80-year legacy of impact and innovation, we empower every mom and every family.

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