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It's a "C" Grade for NM's Premature Birth Rate

PHOTO: The state has made progress in the past few years, but New Mexico's rate of premature births remains well below the goal set by the March of Dimes. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Energy.
PHOTO: The state has made progress in the past few years, but New Mexico's rate of premature births remains well below the goal set by the March of Dimes. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Energy.
November 19, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. - New Mexico's premature birth rate has improved over the past several years, but still remains well below the goal set by the March of Dimes. The organization's "2014 Premature Birth Report Card" released this month gives New Mexico a "C" grade for its premature birth rate.

A birth considered preterm is a baby born before 37 weeks, a full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks. Becky Horner, state director with the March of Dimes, says the last few weeks of pregnancy are critical for the baby.

"The things that develop in that last, final push to delivery are the lungs, and the heart," says Horner. "There's actually significant brain development at that time too."

Horner says New Mexico's 11.6 percent premature birth rate has dropped about three percentage points since 2006. The March of Dimes has a goal of reducing the national preterm birth rate to 9.6 percent by 2020. The national rate of 11.4 percent is at its lowest level in 17 years.

Horner says premature births are decreasing in part because hospitals in New Mexico have implemented polices that a woman's labor cannot be induced before 39 weeks, unless medically necessary. She adds, the cost of a full-term birth is much less than a preterm.

"The average cost of a preterm delivery is over $50,000," says Horner. "A normal, non-eventful full-term delivery averages about $4,000."

Horner 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.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - NM