Premature births declined by 0.1% in 2020, according to a new report.
March of Dimes’ annual Report Card grades the U.S. states, Puerto Rico and 100 cities on preterm birth rates, as well as on infant death, low-risk cesarean births, social vulnerability and other factors.
The 2021 Report Card – which includes several new measurements – found that, for the first time in six years, preterm births declined slightly to 10.1% from 10.2%, with the U.S. keeping its grade of “C-.”
However, rates increased for Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women, and maternal deaths and women suffering from severe health complications due to pregnancy are continuing to rise.
The U.S. ranks among the most dangerous developed nations for childbirth and the Report Card shows that Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women are still up to 60% more likely to give birth preterm compared to White women.
Preterm birth rates increased for Black mothers from 14.25% in 2019 to 14.36% in 2020, as well as for American Indian/Alaskan Native mothers from 11.55% to 11.61%.
Additionally, Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native babies are still twice as likely as White babies to die before their first birthdays, and Black women are three times more likely to die than their White counterparts.
The nonprofit noted in an accompanying release that more than 700 women in the U.S. still die from pregnancy-related causes each year – a number that has more than doubled over the last 30 years.
The latest analysis from the surgeon general shows about 60,000 women suffer from severe maternal morbidity every year in the U.S.
March of Dimes said that the crisis does not have one root cause or solution and that more information was needed to better understand late-preterm birth and the data during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While we’ve seen a small improvement in preterm births and infant deaths, communities of color are still disproportionately impacted,” March of Dimes CEO Stacey Stewart said in a statement. “We see these same disparities trend with maternal health and are a result of a complex web of factors that are fueling this health equity gap. We know it is possible for every family to have a healthy start and we must work together to change the course of this crisis to ensure that they all do.”
Only Vermont earned an “A” grade.
A preterm birth is when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In 2020, preterm birth affected one of every 10 infants born in the U.S.
Babies born before 32 weeks have higher rates of death and disability and preterm birth and low birth weight accounted for approximately 17% of infant deaths.
Those who survive, the agency notes, can have problems breathing and feeding, hearing and vision issues, developmental delay and cerebral palsy.