In 2016, about 1 in 10 babies was born too early in the United States. Learn about the problem, risk factors, and what we can do to reduce premature birth.
About Premature Birth
A developing baby goes through important growth throughout pregnancy—including in the final months and weeks. Premature (also known as preterm) birth is when a baby is born too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed. The earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of death or serious disability. In 2015, preterm birth and low birth weight accounted for about 17% of infant deaths. Babies who survive can have breathing issues, intestinal (digestive) problems, and bleeding in their brains. Long-term problems may include developmental delay (not meeting the developmental milestones for his or her age) and lower performance in school.
Preterm Birth in the United States
Reducing preterm birth is a national public health priority. Preterm birth rates decreased from 2007 to 2014, and CDC research shows the decline in preterm births is partly due to fewer teens and young women giving birth. Despite this success, the preterm birth rate rose for the second straight year in 2016, and about 1 in 10 babies (10%) was born too early in the United States. Additionally, racial and ethnic differences in preterm birth rates remain. For example, in 2016, the rate of preterm birth among non-Hispanic black women (14%) was about 50% higher than the rate of preterm birth among non-Hispanic white women (9%).
Experts don’t know all the reasons that some babies are born too early. Some things (called risk factors) can increase the chance that a woman will have a preterm birth. However, a woman can still have a premature birth even if she has no known risk factors.
Risk factors for preterm birth include—
- Social characteristics
- Black race
- Teens and women over age 35
- Low socioeconomic position
- Health behaviors
- Medical and pregnancy characteristics
- Mental health (stress, depression)
- Pregnancy history (short time between pregnancies, delivering a baby preterm in the past, being pregnant with multiples)
- Pregnancy complications (preeclampsia, placenta previa or placental abruption)
- Medical disorders (thyroid disease, obesity, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure)
- Fertility treatments (assisted reproductive technology or other treatments)
- Infection within the uterus
What Can We Do?
We can work to reduce preterm birth using the following strategies:
- Providing women access to health care before and between pregnancies;
- Identifying women at risk for preterm delivery and offering effective treatments to prevent preterm birth;
- Discouraging deliveries before 39 weeks without a medical need;
- Preventing unintended pregnancies and waiting at least 18 months between pregnancies;
- Because being pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets, or more) has a higher risk of preterm birth, choosing single embryo transfer as appropriate when undergoing in vitro fertilization.
CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health is engaged in a variety of activities to reduce preterm delivery and complications. CDC provides support to perinatal quality collaboratives (PQCs), which are state or multi-state networks of teams working to improve the quality of care for mothers and babies. Funding supports the capabilities of PQCs to improve the quality of perinatal care in their states, including efforts to reduce preterm birth and improve prematurity outcomes. CDC works with experts to develop tools PQCs can use to further their development, including a resource guide[566 KB] and a webinar series. CDC and the March of Dimes also launched the National Network of Perinatal Quality Collaboratives to support state-based PQCs in making measureable improvements in statewide health care and health outcomes for mothers and babies. Learn about other efforts to address prematurity at CDC Preterm Birth Activities.
From CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health
Preterm labor and premature birth
From the March of Dimes
Caring for a premature baby: what parents need to know
From the American Academy of Pediatrics’ HealthyChildren.org
- Page last reviewed: November 6, 2017
- Page last updated: November 6, 2017
- Content source:
- National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs