More than 1,000 fewer babies died before celebrating their first birthday between 2007 and 2008, and many of them had the benefit of a full-term pregnancy, according to data just released by the National Center for Health Statistics.
The United States infant mortality rate declined 2 percent from 2007 to 2008. The rate dropped to 6.61 from 6.75 deaths for every 1,000 live births. The NCHS report found that all of this decrease in the infant mortality rate can be accounted for by a decrease in preterm births. While infant mortality rates were relatively unchanged between 2000 and 2005, this recent improvement represents a 4 percent decline in infant mortality since 2000 and a 13 percent decline since 1995.
“This data conclusively demonstrates that preventing premature birth saves lives,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse president of the March of Dimes. “But 28,000 babies still did not live to see their first birthday. No parent should ever have to experience the pain of losing a child from prematurity, or from any other cause.”
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. Much of this improvement can be attributed to a decline in the rate of infants born just a few weeks early, which may be linked to better hospital practices that discourage elective early deliveries that can result in premature births.
The new NCHS statistics show that the earlier a baby is born, the greater the risk of death, but Dr. Howse says it’s important to note that even babies born just a few weeks early — between 34 and 36 weeks gestation — have a death rate three times as high as babies born at full term. In 2008, nearly two-thirds of all infant deaths occurred in the first month of life, and two-thirds of all infant deaths were preterm babies, according to the NCHS.
The March of Dimes has set a goal of lowering the national preterm birth rate to 9.6 percent of all births by 2020. This goal can be achieved by a combination of activities, including: giving all women of childbearing age access to healthcare coverage and preconception and prenatal care; fully implementing proven interventions to reduce the risk of an early birth, such as not smoking during pregnancy, progesterone treatments for women as appropriate, avoiding multiples from fertility treatments, avoiding elective inductions and Cesarean deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy unless medically necessary; and by funding new research into prevention of preterm birth.