Premature births down but C-sections continue rise
Statistics on childbirth released today show progress on some fronts and discouraging news on others. The most promising data was in rates of premature birth and low birth-weight babies. Both showed the first decline in rates since the early 1980s. The statistics were among a report released today by the National Center for Health Statistics.
The preterm birth rate, defined as infants delivered at less than 37 weeks of pregnancy, fell 1% in 2007. The rate is now 12.7% of all births. According to the March of Dimes, the improvement is largely due to a reduction in deliveries taking place a week or two early. But March of Dimes President Jennifer Howse said in a news release, "We're encouraged by this drop in the preterm birth rate, and hope that the emphasis we've put on the problem of late preterm birth is beginning to make a difference."
The rates of preterm births were uneven across the country. Alaska, Idaho and New Hampshire experienced significant declines -- 7%, 9% and 10%, respectively -- while other states showed increases. The rate in California increased from 10.7% in 2006 to 10.9% in 2007. Data on state performance can be found on the March of Dimes website.
Rates of low birth-weight babies also declined slightly, from 8.3% in 2006 to 8.2% in 2007. However, any drop is important since the rates of both preterm and low birth-weight births had been steadily climbing for more than 20 years.
On a less optimistic note, births to teenage women increased for the second straight year, now accounting for 42.5 of every 1,000 U.S. births. And the rate of C-section delivery, long criticized as needlessly high, continues to soar. C-section deliveries now make up 31.8% of all births. It's the 11th straight year the C-section rate has increased.
The data also showed that births to unmarried women continue to rise to historic levels, now accounting for almost 40% of all births. The U.S. fertility rate is also up 1%, to 69.5 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44.
The report, "Birth: Preliminary Data for 2007," can be accessed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
-- Shari Roan
Photo credit: Loyola University Medical Center via Getty Images