Premature Birth is on the Rise
November 18 is Prematurity Awareness Day.
I am one of those moms who had firsthand experience with prematurity. My twin boys were born 5 weeks early 6 years ago. Even though they’ve grown to be healthy boys, we had to struggle with low birth weight and health problems during the first year of their lives.
This is the reason why I tend to follow closely the latest new updates on prematurity. This is why I am sharing with you today some facts and figures on prematurity.
What is Preterm Birth?
Preterm birth is defined as delivery before 37 weeks of gestation is completed. In recent years, preemies have been loosely classified into 3 categories:
- Very preterm infants are those born before the 32th week of gestation.
- Moderately preterm infants are those born between the 32nd and 34th week of pregnancy
- Late preterm births are those which occur between the 34th and the 36th week of gestation.
Children born prematurely have a higher rate of health problems such as cerebral palsy, sensory deficits, and respiratory conditions, and learning disabilities compared to children born full term.
Statistics on Prematurity
Let’s look at some statistics on prematurity:
- Almost 13 million babies from all over the world are born prematurely each year.
- More than 1 million of these preemies die as a result of preterm delivery.
- More than 85% of preterm births occur in low- and middle-income countries of Africa and Asia
- One in 8 American babies is premature.
- The rate on preterm deliveries in the US has increased by 36% during the last 25 years, higher than most developed countries.
Global distribution of preterm births
The white paper also reports the following preterm birth rates per region:
- Africa – 11.9%
- Asia – 9.1%
- Europe – 6.2%
- Latin America and the Caribbean – 8.1%
- North America – 10.6%
- Oceania – 6.4%
According to income or resources, the preterm birth rates are as follows:
- High income countries – 7.5%
- Middle income countries -8.8%
- Low income countries -12.5%
The figures clearly indicate that preterm birth rates are related to income or resources. What is surprising, even troubling is the fact the preterm birth rate in North America is quite high, higher that the rate in middle income regions.
Preterm birth rate in the US is high – and rising
Breaking down the North American rates among individual countries, the rate is 12.7% in the US according to U.S. National Center for Health Statistics and 8.2% in Canada according to a Canadian government report. The rate of preterm births seems to be increasing in some countries including the US, Denmark and Norway. There are several factors that contribute to the increasing rate of preterm births in the US and other countries, and include
- Increased births due to assisted reproduction which lead to multiple pregnancies that necessitate early delivery.
- Increased number of pregnancies in women older than 35
- Increased use of elective Cesarean sections close to term, thus increasing the number of late premature births.
In contrast, not much is known about the causes of premature births in low income countries but they are presumably related to poor health care system and economic problems.
Prematurity is a global problem and seems to be increasing due to many different reasons. But it all boils down to the fact that preterm births, unless medically necessary, do not benefit baby or mom.