C Grade On Preemie Births
March of Dimes gives mixed marks to states in latest report.
The rate of babies born too soon has dropped, yet the U.S. only ranks as "average" when it comes to preventing premature births.
Babies who come into the world just three weeks pre-term often face a number of challenges.
Their lungs and brains aren't fully developed and they may be sicker than full-term babies.
That realization among doctors nationwide has lead to a slow, downward shift in the trend of scheduling early births for convenience rather than medical emergency.
"Every baby now is being looked at carefully to make sure there aren't elective inductions or unnecessary C-sections," says Dr. Alan Fleischman.
Dr. Fleischman is the medical director for the March of Dimes, which just released its annual "Premature Birth Report Card."
The U.S. earned a "C" grade overall.
In 2009, the nation's birth rate was 12.2 percent, a decrease from a high of 12.8 percent in 2006.
"We believe we can bring that rate down to 9.6 % by 2020," Dr. Fleischman says.
The March of Dimes credits the overall improvement in the nation's pre-term birth rate in part to fewer elective early deliveries, but has also noted a decrease in smoking and an increase in health care coverage among women of childbearing age.
Vermont was the only state to receive an "A."
"All of the hospitals in Vermont have collaborated in a robust quality improvement program to make sure that every birth is indicated and there are no early births except those that are medically necessary," Fleischman explains.
Three states earned an "F": Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.