(RxWiki News) Being born too early can increase babies' risk of various health problems. But there's good news. Fewer and fewer babies are being born too early in the US.
The US rate of preterm birth has declined for the fifth year in a row, according to the March of Dimes. Premature birth occurs when a baby is born before the 37th week of pregnancy. It can lead to a number of short-term and long-term problems for these babies.
Short-term complications of preterm birth include breathing difficulties, heart problems, risk of bleeding in the brain, difficulty retaining their body heat and gastrointestinal issues.
There are also a range of long-term health issues linked to preterm birth, from vision, hearing and dental problems to cerebral palsy and slowed cognitive development.
"Attend all prenatal appointments."
The March of Dimes released their Premature Birth Report Card for 2011, revealing that the US is continuing to make progress on reducing the number of preemies born each year.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the preterm birth rate in the US had steadily increased, peaking in 2006 at 12.8 percent.
Then it began dropping, dipping below 12 percent in 2010 with a rate of 11.99 percent, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
The 2011 rate then dropped to 11.7 percent, the lowest rate in the past ten years. The biggest drop was in babies born at 34 to 36 weeks of pregnancy.
These babies are also at a higher risk for anemia and jaundice and may encounter metabolic problems such as low blood sugar. Preemies can also be more susceptible to infection because their immune systems are usually underdeveloped.
Preemies are more likely than full-term children to have behavioral or psychological problems and chronic health issues in general.
The March of Dimes has set the goal of having the entire US preterm birth rate at 9.6 percent by 2020.
This year, four states received an "A" on the March of Dimes report card for meeting that goal: Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont.
The US as a whole received a "C" on the report card for the 11.7 percent.
The March of Dimes has created a "Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait" campaign to encourage pregnant women and their care providers not to schedule deliveries before the 39th week of pregnancy without medical necessity.
In addition, March of Dimes President Jennifer L. Howse, MD, said in a release that state health departments have successfully developed programs and interventions that can be credited with the continued decrease in the preterm birth rate.
"These results demonstrate that many premature births can be prevented with the right policies and bold leadership," Dr. Howse said.
The March of Dimes Prematurity Prevention Campaign is supported financially by Destination Maternity, Watson Pharmaceuticals, the WellPoint Foundation and private donor gifts.