Health leaders applaud MD’s seven-year improvement in preterm birth rate

The seven-year improving trend in Maryland’s preterm birth rate helped give more babies a healthy start in life and contributed to the improvement in the national rate.

Maryland’s preterm birth rate was 11.9 percent in 2013, down from 13.5 percent in 2006, the year the national rate peaked. Maryland again earned a “C” grade on the March of Dimes report card, which was released today. Prematurity remains especially high among African Americans. In Maryland, their preterm birth rate is 15.7 percent or one in six births.

Maryland’s current rate of late preterm births is 8.1 percent; the rate of women smoking is 14.9 percent and the rate of uninsured women is 12.9 percent. These improvements mean not just healthier babies, but also a potential savings in health care and economic costs to society.

The following factors contributed to improved infant health in Maryland and earned it a star on the report card: 

• Reducing the percent of uninsured women of child-bearing age;
• Lowering the late preterm birth rate;
• Reducing the percentage of women of childbearing age who smoke.

“We’re proud of Maryland’s long-term improvement on the report card. Their success is a testament to the hard work of its state and local health departments, our hospital partners and health care providers. It shows that when a health problem, as complex as preterm birth, is challenged with strong policies and bold leadership, babies benefit,” said Robert Atlas, M.D., chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Mercy Medical Center.

The national preterm birth rate fell to 11.4 percent in 2013 – the lowest in 17 years – meeting the federal Healthy People 2020 goal seven years early. The March of Dimes attributed the improved rates to an expansion of successful programs and interventions, including actions by health officials in Maryland and other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Despite this progress, the nation still received a “C” on the annual report card and still has the highest rate of preterm birth of any high resource country.

Grades are based on comparing each state’s and the nation’s 2013 preliminary preterm birth rates with the March of Dimes 2020 goal of 9.6 percent of all live births. The U.S. preterm birth rate is 11.5 percent, a decline of 10 percent from the peak of 12.8 percent in 2006. Report Card information for the U.S. and Maryland will be available at:

The March of Dimes is investing in a network of prematurity research centers to find solutions to this still too-common, costly and serious problem.

Dr. Atlas continued, “Through the March of Dimes unique, team-based research projects, we will continue the important work of discovering the unknown causes of preterm birth so more babies will get a healthy start in life.”

Premature birth, birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy, is a serious health problem that costs the U.S. more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine. It is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifetime health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and others. Even babies born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants. At least 39 weeks of pregnancy are important to a baby’s health because many important organs, including the brain and lungs, are not completely developed until then.

“The March of Dimes has invested more than $2.6 million to research institutions in Maryland and Washington, D.C.,” said Anne Eder, director of program services for the March of Dimes Maryland-National Capital Chapter. “We will continue to work together to improve access to health care, help women quit smoking and, through our Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait consumer education campaign, encourage women and health care providers to avoid scheduling a delivery before 39 weeks of pregnancy unless medically necessary.”

On November 17, the March of Dimes and organizations from around the world will mark the 4th Annual World Prematurity Day. The World Prematurity Network (WPN), a global coalition of consumer and parent groups working together to raise awareness and prevent premature birth in their countries, is calling for action to prevent preterm birth and improve care for babies born too soon. An estimated 15 million babies are born premature and of those more than a million die as a result of their early birth.

Local Prematurity Awareness events include (details can be found at
• Throughout November, local March of Dimes staff and volunteers will visit nearly 30 hospitals for a “Day of Gratitude” to thank Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) doctors, nurses and other health care professionals for all that they do every day for fragile newborns.

• The March of Dimes Tri-state Network for Perinatal Health Equity Summit will be held November 17 from 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. at Providence Hospital’s Ross Auditorium, 1150 Varnum Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20017. Leading obstetricians, neonatologists, public health officials and maternal and child health professionals will be updated on the latest developments in preventing premature birth. For more information, contact Marie Pokraka at or (571) 257-2301.

• On November 17, the Capital Wheel at National Harbor will shine in purple to symbolize hope for a healthy start for more babies. 

To learn more about Prematurity Awareness Month and World Prematurity Day, please visit From there, share stories and videos about babies born too soon. The page features an interactive world map showing the home place for each story told.

About the March of Dimes
The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide and its premier event, March for Babies, 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 information, visit or Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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