New York's Premature Birth Rate Drops, Giving Babies a Healthier Start

ALBANY, N.Y. (January 4, 2013) – State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., said today that New York State's rate of premature birth is dropping– giving hundreds of babies a healthier start in life. In 2009, 12.2 percent of New York's babies were born prematurely. As of 2011 New York has dropped to a rate of 10.9 percent –a relative decline of more than 10.6 percent in two years and better than the U.S. average of 11.7 percent.

Each year, more than one half-million babies are born in the United States before 37 weeks gestation, putting them at higher risk for infant death, as well as breathing problems, low blood sugar and other complications that often result in longer hospital stays in neonatal intensive care units. As these premature babies grow, they are more likely to develop significant health problems such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, vision and hearing problems, and learning difficulties.

"Babies need a healthy start, and full-term pregnancy helps them get that start," Dr. Shah said. "Our work with birthing hospitals, home visiting programs and other practitioners to raise the quality of prenatal care and support women and their families during pregnancy is yielding results. We are also helping expectant parents learn that."

The costs of medical care for premature babies is 10 times higher than for full-term infants in their first year of life – about $30,000 vs. $3,000. As part of a national effort to reduce the complications and risk of death due to premature birth, in April 2012 Commissioner Shah pledged, with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and the March of Dimes, to reduce New York State's premature birth rate by 8 percent by 2014 to 11.2 percent. New York State has achieved this goal and is working to improve even further by 2020 to no more than 9.6 percent of births.

In September 2010, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) began collaborating with New York's Regional Perinatal Centers (RPCs) and the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality (NICHQ) to improve and ensure the quality of obstetrical and neonatal care related to preterm births through the New York State Perinatal Quality Collaborative (NYSPQC). The NYSPQC Obstetrical Project seeks to reduce scheduled deliveries between 36 and 38 weeks gestation without medical indications. New York State has made great strides in decreasing the rate of these deliveries. As a result, planned cesarean sections and induced births dropped by two-thirds in New York State's RPCs from 2009-2011.

Dr. Shah noted that women can help to prevent premature birth by ensuring they are in optimal health before becoming pregnant and securing good prenatal care. "The best way for an expectant mother to have a healthy baby is to practice healthful behaviors herself," the Commissioner said. "Stopping tobacco and alcohol use, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and normal blood pressure, seeking regular health care for medical issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and reducing stress all help."

In November 2012, the March of Dimes acknowledged New York State's improvement in the organization's annual premature birth report card. New York was given a grade of B, up from the 2011 grade of C. States were graded based on their progress toward achieving the March of Dimes national goal of lowering the preterm birth rate to 9.6 percent of births by 2020.

In an ongoing effort to combat prematurity, DOH recently announced the availability of funds to support community-based programs to improve maternal and infant health outcomes for high-need women and families in targeted communities. The overarching goal of the Maternal and Infant Health Request for Applications is to improve maternal and infant health outcomes for high-need women and to reduce racial, ethnic and economic disparities in those outcomes. Funded programs will work to improve specific maternal and infant health outcomes including preterm birth, low birth weight, infant mortality and maternal mortality rates through implementation of evidence-based and/or best practice strategies across the reproductive life course.

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