Premature births — babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy — have been on the rise in the U.S. for the last 20 years. In 2006 our nation hit an all time high of 12.8 percent premature births. This is comparable to preterm birth rates in third world countries.
Now the most recent 2012 data available shows the U.S. ranks 131 out of 184 countries in premature births with a rate of 12 percent. Notably, the number of babies born between 34 and 37 weeks of pregnancy, known as late preterm, contributes to the largest percentage of all premature births in the U.S.
It is not clear why our country has experienced a spike in late preterm births in recent years, but some theories include:
- Reproductive technologies. The increase in the use of reproductive technologies has led to increased rates of multiple births that require early delivery.
- Increased medical monitoring. The increased advancement in medical monitoring devices such as ultrasounds has led to an increased number of women being induced before their due date and planned cesarean sections.
- False sense of maturity. Some feel a baby is fully mature by 34 weeks of pregnancy and have a false mindset that these infants are able to thrive as well as their more mature counterparts.
- Obesity. If the mother is obese, complications can arise during pregnancy that often lead to an early birth.
- Clinical care. Many speculate the large disparities in care available to women, specifically minority women, may play a role in the rising rate of late preterm birth.
For more information about late preterm births and prenatal care visit chw.org/pregnancyresources.
– Katie Malin, RN, MSN, APNP, NNP-BC, neonatal nurse practitioner, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin