1 in 10 babies a preemie

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This July 25, 2006 handout photo provided by the March of Dimes Foundation shows a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Albany Medical Center in Albany, N.Y. About 15 million premature babies are born every year _ more than 1 in 10 of the world’s births and a bigger problem than previously believed, according to the first country-by-country estimates of this obstetric epidemic. The startling toll: 1.1 million of these fragile newborns die as a result, and even those who survive can suffer lifelong disabilities. (AP Photo/Jennifer Coate, March of Dimes Foundation)

The first-ever country-by-country estimate of premature births finds that 15 million babies a year are born preterm – more than one in 10 live births.

About 1 million of those babies die shortly after birth, and countless others suffer a significant, life-long physical, neurological or educational disability, says a report released Wednesday.

In the U.S., about 12 percent of all births are preterm, a percentage far higher than in Europe or other developed countries.

Factors driving up the rate in the USA include the number of older women having babies; increased use of fertility drugs, which increase the risk of multiple births; and increased rates of medically unnecessary Caesarean deliveries and inductions “done at the convenience of the doctor or mother,” says Christopher Howson, a co-editor of the report and head of Global Programs for the March of Dimes.

A considerable racial gap also exists in the U.S. The preterm birth rate for black Americans in 2009 was as high as 17.5 percent, compared with 10.9 percent for white Americans.

Gannett News Service

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