No states earn 'A' grade on preterm birth rates: March of Dimes

For the second year straight, March of Dimes has given the U.S. a "D+" for its high preterm birth rate, according to the group's annual report card on maternal and infant health. 

Preterm birth is one of the leading causes of infant death in the U.S. Last year, more than 380,000 babies were born before 37 weeks gestation across the country — a minimal improvement from the previous year. Overall, 10.4% of all births were preterm in 2022, earning the nation a "D+" for the second year in a row. The rate has been climbing from 9.8% in 2012 and hit an all-time high of 10.5% in 2021. No states earned an "A" grade. 

"I look at this as a window in the lens for the health of our country, and we are failing our moms and our babies, and we need to prioritize them," Elizabeth Cherot, MD, president and CEO at March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization aiming to improve maternal and child health, told CNN. . "We should have better outcomes, and we don't. So I think there's so much work to be done." 

Black women and Alaskan Native women were 54% more likely to have a preterm birth relative to white women. Maternal deaths also increased, according to the report. From 2018 to 2021, the rate doubled from 17.4 to 32.9 deaths per 100,000. The report noted that maternal mortality risk has reached "dangerous levels" for all women amid an increase in cardiovascular and hypertensive conditions. 

To accelerate progress on the nation's maternal and infant health crisis, the March of Dimes report called on more states to provide 12 weeks of paid family leave. Only 10 states and Washington, D.C., currently have such policies. The group also urged more states to extend Medicaid benefits to one year after the birth of a child and for Medicaid to cover doula care. 

"We have long known that many of the factors impacting poor outcomes for moms and babies can and must be addressed if we are to reverse these trends," Dr. Cherot said in a news release. "The fact is, we are not prioritizing the health of moms and babies in this country, and our systems, policies and environments, as they stand today, continue to put families at great risk." 

Access the full 2023 March of Dimes Report Card here.

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