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Maryland rates average in reducing preterm births

A leading organization in the fight to improve the health of pregnant women and babies is the March of Dimes. One of its major causes is reducing premature births as a means of cutting infant mortality and birth injuries in the United States. The group just came out with new grades that rank the states for how they're doing to cut preterm births. Maryland comes out with only a C.

According to the March of Dimes, preterm birth rates fell in Maryland and nearly every other state between 2006 and 2009. In some states the improvement was more than 10 percent. Maryland's rate showed some decline, going from 13.5 percent in 2006 to 12.7 percent in 2009. Ultimately, the organization's goal is to see every state hitting a target of 9.6 percent by 2020.

The reason the organization sees this as so important is because births before 37 weeks of term are the leading cause of newborn death. The normal term for a pregnancy is 39 weeks. Additionally, babies who survive early delivery face increased risks of life-long health problems. These can include lung troubles, damage to the nervous system and intellectual disabilities. By one estimate, preterm births cost the country more than $26 billion a year.

The March of Dimes says it's doing a few specific things to try to get the nation to its 2020 goal. They include working to be sure all women of childbearing age have access to decent care, promoting better prenatal practices by women, such as quitting smoking and drinking. Other steps include boosting progesterone treatments for women when appropriate and reducing the numbers of elective cesarean sections and induced labors before 39 weeks. It's also funding new research on preterm births.

The 2011 report card gives the nation as a whole a grade of C. Three states and Puerto Rico earned Fs, 11 states and the District of Columbia earned Ds, 19 states, including Maryland, got Cs and 16 states received Bs. Only Vermont earned an A.

Source: March of Dimes, "Preterm Birth Rate Shows Three Year Improvement in Most States," Nov. 1, 2011

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