WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Nov. 18 (UPI) -- The U.S. preterm birth rate declined to 11.99 percent last year, the fourth year of decline, but one out of every eight babies was born too soon, officials say.
Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes, in White Plains, N.Y., said the report by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the decline in the 2010 preterm birth rate is a 6 percent drop from the high of 12.8 percent in 2006.
"Four consecutive years of declines in our nation's preterm birth rate is a testament to the combined hard work of researchers, healthcare professionals, our volunteers, sponsors, donors and others who know that there is no single answer to the problem of premature birth," Howse said in a statement.
"We are continuing to work together to prevent as many preterm births as possible because we owe our babies a healthy start in life."
Babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifelong health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy and learning disabilities, Howse said.
Even babies born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants. If there are no complications that require an early delivery, at least 39 weeks of pregnancy are critical to a baby's health because many important organs, including the brain and lungs, are not completely developed until then, Howse said.