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Alarming Statistics for Preterm Births in the United States

doi: 10.1097/NNE.0b013e318262eb79
Departments: News, Notes and Tips

Preterm birth rates are higher in the United States than in 130 other countries, according to international health agencies including the March of Dimes Foundation and the World Health Organization.1 This ranking places the incidence of preterm births in the United States between the Congo and Nigeria. For every 100 live births in the United States, 12 are preterm. Fortunately, more preterm infants do survive in the United States than in nations with fewer health resources.

Chris Howson, PhD, an author of the report, offers several explanations for this alarming ranking. One cause is the increasing rate of obesity and associated risks of gestational diabetes and hypertension. The number of uninsured women has increased, thus decreasing effective prenatal care. Howson also notes that elective cesarean deliveries scheduled too early in the pregnancy contribute to preterm births. Also, older women who have difficulty with conception frequently use fertility drugs. These drugs increase the chance for multiple births and consequently for preterm births.

More than 60% of all preterm births occur in Africa and South Asia. The very poorest countries report that up to 12% of the infants born every year are born prematurely. In comparison, countries with higher average incomes report a 9% preterm birth rate.

Dr Hyagriv Simhan, MD, of Magee-Women’s Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center reminds us that the best way to minimize preterm births is to assist the mother with a carefully planned pregnancy. Seemingly simple choices, such as eating right, not smoking, and waiting a year between pregnancies increase the chances of a full-term pregnancy.

The evidence provided by this report offers an excellent strategy for comparing healthcare outcomes in the United States with those worldwide. Howson’s comments imply that some of our advances in healthcare contribute to preterm births, that is, cesarean deliveries and fertility drugs. Simhan reminds us of the basic needs of the pregnant mother. Surely, the ranking of the United States in preterm births should improve and reflect the resources available to pregnant women in our country.

1. Laino C. U.S. ranks 131st in preterm births: each year nearly 500,000 babies are born prematurely in U.S. WebMD. Health and Pregnancy. May 2, 2012. Available at http:// Accessed May 3, 2012.

Source: ANA Smart Brief. U.S ranks 131st in world for preterm births. May 3, 2012. Available at Accessed May 17, 2012.

Submitted by: Robin E. Pattillo, PhD, RN, CNL, news editor at

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.