March of Dimes: Louisiana Receives ‘F’ Grade, Among Worst in U.S. for Preterm Birth

The nation’s rate of preterm birth—the largest contributor to infant death in the United States -- increased again in 2016, after nearly a decade of decline, earning the nation a “C” grade on the latest March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card.

The rate of preterm birth rose in states across the country for a second year in a row. More than 380,000 babies are born preterm in the United States each year, facing a greater likelihood of death before their first birthday, lifelong disabilities, or chronic health conditions. An additional 8,000 babies were born prematurely in 2016 due to the increase in the preterm birth rate between 2015 and 2016, reported the March of Dimes.

In Louisiana, the preterm birth rate of 12.6% earned the state an “F” on the 2017 Report Card.

“The 2017 March of Dimes Report Card demonstrates that moms and babies in this country face a higher risk of preterm birth based on race and zip code,” says Stacey D. Stewart, president of the March of Dimes. ”We see that preterm birth rates worsened in 43 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and among all racial/ethnic groups. This is an unacceptable trend that requires immediate attention.”

“The March of Dimes is dedicated to giving every baby a fair chance for a healthy start in life, and our work is more vital than ever,” said Stewart.

The United States preterm birth rate went up from 9.6 percent of births in 2015 to 9.8 percent in 2016, according to final data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Across the country, black women are 49 percent more likely to deliver preterm compared to white women, and American Indian/Alaska Native women are 18 percent more likely to deliver preterm compared to white women.

This year’s Report Card includes a preterm birth disparity ratio, which provides a summary measure of the disparities in preterm birth rates across racial/ethnic groups in a geographic area. The disparity ratio shows that the differences in preterm birth rates among racial/ethnic groups are getting worse nationally, and that no state has shown improvement since the baseline of 2010-2012.

Premature birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) is the largest contributor to the death of babies in the United States. Babies who survive an early birth often face serious and lifelong health problems, including breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, cerebral palsy, and intellectual delays. In addition to the human toll, preterm birth accounts for more than $26 billion annually in avoidable medical and societal costs, according to the National Academy of Medicine.

“In addition to discovering new ways to prevent premature birth, and improve the care that women receive, it’s essential that we improve the broader social context for health,” says Paul E. Jarris, MD, MBA, chief medical officer of the March of Dimes. “Only then will our nation be able to level the playing field for mothers and babies in every community.”

With no one cause of preterm birth, and no simple solution, the March of Dimes says it is taking action on multiple fronts nationally, and in communities with the greatest needs, in order to spread known innovations to give every baby a fighting chance. These initiatives include”:

· Go Before you Show is a public education effort aimed at increasing knowledge about the importance of early entry into prenatal care. The purpose of the campaign is to increase first trimester entry into prenatal care by educating the community and prenatal care providers about the importance of prenatal care, and how to access resources.

· Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait is a preterm birth prevention initiative with a focus on “preventable” late term birth. The collaboration between hospitals, health departments and community organizations provides education for pregnant patients, healthcare providers, and the community to understand the problem of preterm birth and what measures can be taken to reduce the risks.

· Stork’s Nest is a cooperative project with Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. For more than 40 years, Storks Nest has aimed to increase the number of women receiving early and regular prenatal care in an effort to prevent cases of low birth weight, premature birth, and infant deaths. The program promotes prenatal care participation and encourages healthy behaviors during pregnancy through incentives and education.

· One Key Question is a preconception health intervention which educates families on birth spacing, inter-conception health, and pregnancy intention. This intervention is designed to increase the health of families before, during, and after pregnancy by ensuring that access to reproductive health education and services are equitable.