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Pre-term births are up but fewer newborns die
Last Updated: 2006-07-14 11:15:39 -0400                              By Maggie Fox

Too many U.S. babies are being born pre-term, costing the economy billions of dollars, but the good news is that fewer teenagers are having babies and fewer young babies are dying than ever before, according to two reports released on Thursday. The two reports provide a snapshot of infancy and early childhood in the United States, which ranks 23rd among industrialized nations in infant mortality and has a growing rate of premature births. One report, from the Institute of Medicine, finds premature births in the United States cost society at least $26 billion a year. "In 2005, 12.5 percent of births in the United States were preterm, a 30 percent increase over 1981 rates," the Institute, an independent group that advises the federal government on medical issues, said in a statement.
"Despite great strides in improving the survival of infants born preterm, little is known about how preterm births can be prevented," said Richard Behrman, executive chair of the Pediatric Education Steering Committee in California, who chaired the Institute panel.
The report said use of in-vitro fertilization and other assisted reproductive technologies has risen dramatically in the past 20 years. In addition, more older women are having children. Both assisted fertility and older childbearing raise the risk of multiple births and such babies are often born early. "Among infants conceived using these methods, 61.7 percent of twins and 97.2 percent of triplets and other 'higher-order' multiples were born preterm," the Institute said.
These babies often spend weeks in neonatal intensive care units and often have health problems as they grow older.
But the good news is their lives are being saved.
A second report, the Report on America's Children from the National Institutes of Health, finds the U.S. infant mortality rate declined to its former, lowest ever, level after increasing the previous year.
In 2003, 6.8 babies out of every 1,000 died in their first year, down from 7 per 1,000 in 2002.
"Advances in newborn care and technology have served to offset the increase in low birthweight," said Dr. Duane Alexander, Director of the NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Low birthweight infants, those weighing less than 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg) at birth, made up 8.1 percent of births in 2004, up from 7.9 percent in 2003.
"Today's report underscores the need to address premature birth in our country with the same sense of urgency and focus that has been brought to other threats to children's health," said Dr. Jennifer Howse, president of the March of Dimes, a charity with the primary mission of reducing birth defects.
The NIH report found the adolescent birth rate fell to the lowest level ever recorded in 2004 -- 22.1 for every 1,000 women and girls, down from 22.4 in 2003.
"From 1991 through 2004, the decline was especially striking among Black, non-Hispanic teenagers; the rate for this group dropped by more than half, from 86 to 37 births per 1,000 females," the report reads. More unmarried women are having babies, though, with the rate up from 45 per 1,000 unmarried women in 2003, to 46 per 1,000 in 2004.

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