Premature births--babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy--are on the rise in the U.S., and nobody is quite sure why. Multiple births due to fertility drugs account for some of the increase, but they can't explain the 27% rise in premature births over the past two decades. Today 1 in 8 babies, close to half a million annually, is born preterm--some so small, they could fit in your hand.
Prematurity is the leading cause of neonatal death, and preemies who survive are at risk for lifelong health problems, ranging from retardation and chronic lung disease to hearing and vision loss. While there are known risk factors, including obesity, anemia, high blood pressure, smoking and drug use, "in fact," says Dr. Nancy Green, medical director of the March of Dimes, "the cause of half of all premature births in the U.S. is a mystery."
The March of Dimes last week launched a campaign to raise money and awareness. Its goal: to reduce early births 15% in five years. To learn more, visit marchofdimes.com --By David Bjerklie