Premature Births Up 20% in Nearly 20 Years


Dr. Duane Alexander points to a number of reasons for the increase in premature births, citing “maternal health behaviors such as smoking and drinking alcohol" as the cause.

United States Surgeon General Dr. Steven Galson, along with National Institutes of Health officials and other experts, met this week in Washington, DC to discuss the troubling rise in premature birth rates, and to come up with ways to reverse the trend. It’s estimated that one in every eight babies is born prematurely (born before the 37th week of pregnancy), and these babies are subjected to a number of health risks as a result, including “low birth weight, breathing problems due to underdeveloped lungs, life-threatening infections, blindness, hearing loss, a lung condition called respiratory distress syndrome, cerebral palsy, learning and developmental disabilities and premature death.” Unfortunately this is a trend that has been worsening for quite some time, with premature births in the US up 20% since 1990. Dr. Duane Alexander, a senior official at the National Institutes of Health, points to a number of reasons for the increase, citing “maternal health behaviors such as smoking and drinking alcohol, more in vitro fertilization pregnancies that increase the likelihood of twins and other multiple births, and maternal obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.”

Another contributor to high premature birth rates is the fact that Caesarean sections have become more common, with 31% of babies delivered by C-section in 2006, as opposed to 5% in 1970. And while a portion of this percentage is medically required, many of the C-sections are by choice. Alexander would like Dr. Galson and other leaders to turn their attention to educating the public about these statistics and the risky maternal behaviors that can lead to premature births.

The steadily rising premature birth rate in the United States is a problem that the public should be more aware about. Aside from the most important aspect of the situation, the babies’ health, premature delivery is “costly in economic terms, to the nation,” Dr. Alexander said. Look for Congress to make more of an effort to educate the public and reverse this trend in the coming months.

Recent News:

Premature babies more likely to have birth defects

Surgeon General's conference aims to develop national strategy to prevent premature births

Premature birth rates continue to rise

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