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National Prematurity Awareness Month: Celebrating Successes and Taking Action

Wanda Barfield, M.D., M.P.H., Director, Division of Reproductive Health

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Media Statement

For Immediate Release: Thursday, November 3, 2016

Contact: Media Relations,
(404) 639-3286

About 1 in 10 babies are born preterm, or before completing the normal 37 to 40 weeks of pregnancy. These babies miss out on the important growth and development that happens in the final weeks. Preterm birth is a leading cause of infant mortality. Babies who survive can have short- and long-term health problems.

November is National Prematurity Awareness Month, an opportunity to reflect on the nearly 400,000 babies born preterm each year in the United States and what we can do to prevent it.

It’s encouraging that the national rate of preterm birth declined 8 percent between 2007 and 2014. A CDC analysis published today in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) attributes some of that decline to successful teen pregnancy prevention. While rates of preterm birth declined for women of all ages between those years, the declines in births to teens and women ages 20 to 24 had the biggest impact on the overall decline. Preventing teen pregnancy is a CDC priority and a “double win”—by preventing it, we also reduce the number of babies born too soon.

That’s good news. But, more recent data indicate a slight increase in the national preterm birth rate from 2014 to 2015 (from 9.57 percent to 9.63 percent). And, while it’s too early to know what caused this increase or if this is the start of trend, we do know that substantial racial and ethnic disparities persist. In 2015, the rate of preterm birth among African-American women (13.4 percent) was about 50 percent higher than the rate of preterm birth among white women (8.9 percent).

At this moment, we have a fantastic opportunity to take advantage of our forward momentum and reduce preterm births even further, but this means hard work at many levels.

We don’t understand all the reasons some babies are born too soon. Even women who appear to do everything “right” can deliver too early. But we do know that some factors increase the risk of preterm birth: young or advanced age of the mother, cigarette or substance abuse, stress, depression, and carrying more than one baby. Factors that determine how we thrive or falter in our environment – poverty, lack of access to quality healthcare, discrimination, and underemployment – also play a role. Many of these factors are more common in African- American communities and threaten the health of pregnant women and their families.

CDC has identified five key strategies proven to reduce preterm births:

  • Prevent unintended pregnancies and achieve an ideal length of time between pregnancies (birth spacing);
  • Provide women ages 18–44 years access to health care before and between pregnancies to help manage chronic conditions and modify other risk behaviors, such as smoking;
  • Identify women at risk for giving birth too early and offer effective treatments to prevent preterm birth;
  • Discourage deliveries before 39 weeks without a medical need; and
  • When in vitro fertilization is used, elect to transfer just one embryo, as appropriate, to reduce multiple births.

By investing in cross-cutting collaborations, activities to translate science into public health practice, and ongoing research, CDC is working to provide our public and private partners with the information and tools they need to implement these strategies.

We can’t do it alone. This National Prematurity Awareness Month, we invite all of our partners – future parents, pregnant women and everyone supporting them through their pregnancy, healthcare providers, public health professionals, and others – to learn about preterm birth and take action to prevent it.

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

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