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Preventing Preterm Births Saves Babies’ Lives

September Is Infant Mortality Awareness Month

White Plains, New York — Tuesday, September 04, 2012

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September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month and the March of Dimes is reminding pregnant women that every pregnancy, if it’s healthy, should go to at least 39 weeks -- because even babies born just a few weeks too soon have a higher risk of illness and death in the first year of life than those born full-term.

Prematurity is the leading cause of death in the first month of life.

“Preventing premature birth saves lives,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “Thousands of babies each year do not live to see their first birthday because they were born too soon. No parent should ever have to experience the pain of losing a child from prematurity, or from any other cause.”

In 2008, nearly 10,000 babies died from preterm birth-related causes. Worldwide, more than million babies die each year because of their early birth.

After years of little or no improvement, the United States infant mortality rate declined 2 percent from 2007 to 2008 to 6.6 deaths for every 1,000 live births. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) report found that all of this decrease in the infant mortality rate can be accounted for by a decrease in preterm births (birth before 37 completed weeks gestation). Data from death certificates has shown that since 2008, infant mortality has continued to drop, to 6.1 for every 1,000 live births, according to 2010 preliminary mortality data.

Through Strong Start, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the March of Dimes has been working to promote 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 because important development of the brain, lungs and other organs occur during the last few weeks.

The U.S. preterm birth rate peaked in 2006 at 12.8 percent. It has dropped for four consecutive years to just less than 12 percent in 2010, and much of this decline can be attributed to the decreasing rate of infants born just a few weeks early, according to the NCHS. The March of Dimes says that these improvements may be linked to better hospital practices that discourage elective early deliveries that can result in premature births.

The earlier a baby is born, the greater the risk of death, according to the NCHS statistics. But Dr. Howse says it’s important to note that even babies born just a few weeks early -- between 34 and 36 weeks pregnancy -- have a death rate three times as high as babies born at full term.

Although the overall risk of death for full-term babies is small, it more than doubles for infants born at 37 weeks of pregnancy, when compared to babies born at 40 weeks, for all races and ethnicities, according to research published in Obstetrics & Gynecology in June 2011, by a team of investigators from the March of Dimes, the National Institutes of Health and the US Food and Drug Administration.

About March of Dimes
The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

For the latest resources and health information, visit our websites marchofdimes.org and nacersano.org. To participate in our annual signature fundraising event, visit marchforbabies.org. If you have been affected by prematurity or birth defects, visit our shareyourstory.org community to find comfort and support. For detailed national, state and local perinatal statistics, visit persistats.org. You can also find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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