Florida’s preterm birth rate has fluctuated in recent years and it again received a “D” on the 2014 March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card.

Florida’s preterm birth rate has fluctuated in recent years and it again received a “D” on the 2014 March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card. 

But, more women of childbearing age have access to prenatal care and fewer are smoking, encouraging the state’s maternal and infant health leaders that improvements in the state’s preterm birth rates are just around the corner.  

Florida’s 2013 preliminary preterm birth rate was 13.6 percent, down from 13.7 percent the year earlier.

“While we’re encouraged that we’re seeing fewer women smoking, and more with insurance, we’re disappointed that we haven’t seen sustained improvement in our preterm birth rate, and that we still have so far to go to reach the March of Dimes goal,” said Dr. Karen Harris, March of Dimes Florida Chapter Program Services Chair. “We’re working hard to change that. The programs and partnerships we have put in place provide the necessary framework for the future of newborn health and we expect to see better rates in the coming years.”

Florida earned a star on the report card for these factors that contribute to improved infant health:

Reducing the percent of uninsured women of childbearing age (27.7 percent)

Lowering the late preterm birth rate (9.6 percent), and

Reducing the percentage of women of childbearing age who smoke (15 percent)

March of Dimes is working with Florida’s maternal and infant health experts to improve birth outcomes, and are evaluating programs to determine if changes are needed or if specific groups or regions should be targeted for assistance.

March of Dimes is calling on all 118 labor and delivery hospitals to end early elective deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy, with over half of the hospitals already pledging to do so.

March of Dimes and health officials have trained over 400 frontline providers in Smoking Cessation and Reduction in Pregnancy Training (SCRIPT) to educate pregnant women about the importance of not smoking during their pregnancy, resulting in an increase of smoking cessation services by 20 percent.

And, the March of Dimes signature program “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait,” which prevents preterm birth by bundling together proven practices, will be expanded to include Florida in 2015, after a very successful pilot program in Kentucky, which was then replicated in 15 additional sites including Texas and New Jersey.

Premature birth, birth before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy, is a serious health problem that costs the United States more than $26 billion annually, according to the Institute of Medicine. It is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifetime health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and others. Even babies born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants. At least 39 weeks of pregnancy are important to a baby’s health because many important organs, including the brain and lungs, are not completely developed until then.

The March of Dimes also is investing in a network five new prematurity research centers to find solutions to this still too-common, costly, and serious problem.

The national preterm birth rate fell to 11.4 percent in 2013 – the lowest in 17 years -- meeting the federal Health People 2020 goal seven years early.  Despite this progress, the U.S. still received a “C” on the 7th annual March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card because it fell short of the more-challenging 9.6 percent target set by the March of Dimes, the group said today. The U.S. still has the highest rate of preterm birth of any industrialized country

On November 17th, the March of Dimes and organizations from around the world will mark the fourth World Prematurity Day. The World Prematurity Network, a global coalition of consumer and parent groups working together to raise awareness and prevent premature birth in their countries, is calling for action to prevent preterm birth and improve care for babies born too soon.  An estimated 15 million babies are born premature and of those more than a million die as a result of their early birth.