Utah scores "B" on premature birth report card

The state has made progress in the past few years, but Utah's premature birth rate of 10.2 percent is still well below the goal set by the March of Dimes. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah’s premature birth rate has improved over the past several years, but still remains below the goal set by the March of Dimes.

The organization’s <a href=”http://www.marchofdimes.org/mission/prematurity-reportcard.aspx” target=”parent”>2014 Premature Birth Report Card</a> released this month gives Utah a B grade for its premature birth rate.

A birth considered pre-term is a baby born before 37 weeks – a full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks.

Julie Drake, state director of programs for the March of Dimes’ Utah Chapter, says the last few weeks of pregnancy are critical for the baby.

“We know that the brain is not completely developed, the liver and lungs,” she points out. “And so, waiting those last few weeks will really help to give that baby a much healthier start in life.”

Drake says Utah’s 10.2 percent premature birth rate has dropped more than one percentage point since 2006.

The March of Dimes has a goal of reducing the national pre-term birth rate to 9.6 percent by 2020, and says the national rate of 11.4 percent is the lowest in 17 years.

Drake explains premature births are decreasing in part because hospitals in Utah have implemented polices that a woman’s labor cannot be induced before 39 weeks, unless medically necessary.

She adds that the cost of a full-term birth is much less than a pre-term.

“A normal delivery usually costs around $4,000,” she says. “And if you times that by about 10, then you’ve got the cost of a pre-term baby.”

Drake says alcohol and tobacco use, the quality of medical care during pregnancy and high blood pressure are among the factors associated with premature birth.

It is also the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth face higher risks of lifetime health challenges, including cerebral palsy, blindness, and breathing problems.

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