U.S. Gets a Near Failing Grade on Premature Births Report Card

premature birth, babyMore than half a million babies, one out of eight, are born prematurely each year in the United States, prompting the March of Dimes to give the nation a D on its premature births report card.

The report card did not give an A to a single state. Vermont, which has a preterm birth rate of 9 percent, got a B, while 17 states got F’s, including Mississippi, with a preterm birth rate of 18.3 percent. The prematurity rate in Puerto Rico, at 19.4 percent, was the highest in the country.

The nationwide rate has barely budged in the most recent three years reported -- to 12.7 percent in 2007, according to preliminary figures, from 12.8 percent in 2006 and 12.7 percent in 2005. It was 11.4 percent in 1997.

All babies born before 37 weeks of gestation are considered premature. They are at higher risk for death and for complications that include cerebral palsy and mental retardation.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:

About 543,000 babies, or one in eight, are born too soon every year in the United States, and 13 premature babies die each day as a result, according to the March of Dimes. Prematurity is actually the leading cause of death during a baby's first month of life, and serious complications can occur later in life for preemies who survive.

Studies show that the earlier a child is born, the higher the risk of complications, including:

  • Respiratory distress syndrome

  • Bleeding in the brain

  • Less ability to fight off infection due to immature immune system

  • Mental retardation

  • Cerebral palsy

  • Lung problems

  • Gastrointestinal problems

  • Vision and hearing loss

So the fact that the United States earned a “D” on their premature births report card is a very serious issue, indeed.

The rate of premature birth in America is higher than that of most other developed nations, and rose 36 percent between the early 1980s and 2006.

Although technological developments have made it possible for more premature babies to survive, directing more health care dollars to prenatal care and reproductive services has not been the answer for this problem. What is needed are resources to help women prevent having a premature birth in the first place.

What Causes Premature Birth?

While a full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks (delivery anywhere from 38 weeks to 42 weeks is considered safe), a premature birth occurs before 37 weeks of gestation.

In some cases, an infection in the mother or serious stress to mother or baby can trigger premature birth. Multiple pregnancy, which causes the uterus to become overstretched, can also increase the risk. However, in about 40 percent of cases the cause of premature birth is labeled “unknown.”

This is very unfortunate, as there is are a couple of simple steps that every pregnant woman (and women trying to conceive) can take to dramatically lower her risk of premature birth.

The Simple Solution to Preventing Premature Births

There is powerful new evidence emerging that sufficient vitamin D levels can reduce your risk of having a premature delivery. It can also help protect your newborn baby from other health problems.

In what is considered the first scientific trial that meets the most stringent criteria for “evidence-based inquiry,” US researchers Drs. Hollis and Wagner divulged their findings at a recent international vitamin D research conference in Brugge, Belgium.

Their findings included:

  • Mothers who took 4,000 IU’s (ten times the RDA of 400 IU) of vitamin D during pregnancy had their risk of premature birth reduced by half

  • Premature babies born to women taking high doses of vitamin D were reduced by half at both 32 and 37 weeks

  • There were also fewer babies who were born “small for dates”

  • Women taking high doses of vitamin D had a 25 percent reduction in infections, particularly respiratory infections such as colds and flu as well as fewer infections of the vagina and the gums

  • The “cormorbidities of pregnancy” were reduced by 30 percent in the women who took the high-dose vitamin D. (Including diabetes, high blood pressure, and pre-eclampsia -- a potentially deadly increase in blood pressure and fluid)

  • Babies getting the highest amounts of vitamin D after birth had fewer colds and less eczema

Another 2009 study on vitamin D deficiency in newborns with acute lower respiratory infection confirmed a strong, positive correlation between newborns' and mothers' vitamin D levels.

That study found that over 87 percent of all newborns and over 67 percent of all mothers had vitamin D levels lower than 20 ng/ml, which is a severe deficiency state. As a result, the researchers recommended that all mothers optimize their vitamin D levels during pregnancy, especially in the winter months, to safeguard their babies' health.

In addition, numerous other studies have found that vitamin D may protect against a number of birth defects and autism.

I am convinced that in the not too distant future it will be mandatory for women to receive regular vitamin D blood test levels.

It is absolutely imperative that pregnant women maintain a blood level of between 50 and 70 ng/ml of 25 hydroxy D. So please watch my free one-hour vitamin D lecture to find out how to get your levels optimized.

Why Omega-3 Fat is So Important to Have a Full-Term Delivery

Omega-3 fat and its derivative, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), is essential to a child's development that if a mother and infant are deficient in it, the child's nervous system and immune system may never fully develop, and it can cause a lifetime of unexplained emotional, learning, and immune system disorders.

However, aside from these developmental benefits, optimizing your omega-3 intake will virtually guarantee that your baby will be full term.

Unfortunately, most women have major deficiencies of this fat, and given the statistics, it’s very possible you do too.

Please note that many prenatal vitamins do not contain one microgram of DHA, so in order to optimize your levels you need to take a separate high-quality, animal-based source. I recommend that you supplement your diet with a high-quality krill oil, rather than the popular fish oils on the market, because the omega-3 in krill oil is attached to phospholipids that dramatically increase its absorption.

Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy

A healthy pregnancy is key to starting out new generations on the right path to health. Unfortunately, in the United States childbirth has been shifted to a conventional medical approach relying on drugs and surgeries as an alternative to the often superior traditional methods.

Part of that shift has been a trend toward using infant formula, which can have disastrous consequences for newborns. Soon we will begin to focus our attention on exposing the multiple dangers of infant formulas currently on the market. Just like we've collaborated with the NVIC on vaccine safety, we will collaborate with experts in the field of infant formulas and be strong advocates for breast feeding and provide you with some of the best information in this area. Stay tuned to the newsletter for updates!

In the meantime, if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant I highly recommend watching the documentary The Business of Being Born. It explores the current U.S. maternity care system, including all of its faults, and interlaces the statistics with birth stories to give you a wide range of perspectives about childbirth. You can watch the trailer below right now.

The book Having a Baby, Naturally by Peggy O'Mara, the editor and publisher of Mothering magazine, is also highly recommended; it addresses common concerns and questions of pregnancy from conception through the first months of parenting.

Finally, my No-Nonsense Guide to a Naturally Healthy Pregnancy and Baby has a variety of sources to help you make your pregnancy and childbirth as healthy and joyous as it possibly can be.

+ Sources and References