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Georgia Lowers Preterm Birth Rate

December 13, 2013

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and the March of Dimes are reporting a drop in the state’s preterm birth rate for the second year in a row, meaning fewer babies risk the health complications of being born too soon.

A preliminary analysis of data collected around the state indicates that the preterm birth rate fell to 10.9 percent in 2012, down from 11.6 percent in 2011.

DPH Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., center, visited the NICU at the Medical Center of Central Georgia with Sheila Ryan, state director of the March of Dimes, and Mitch Rodriguez, M.D., after the first-ever state-wide Prematurity Awareness Summit.

The drop earned Georgia a C on the March of Dimes’ 2013 Premature Birth Report Card, marking the first time the state has ever received a grade higher than a D or F. 

Although both reports point to a decrease in the number of babies born too soon in Georgia, the March of Dimes’ report puts the state’s rate at 12.7 percent. Both reports used the same data from DPH’s Office of Vital Records, but the department further analyzed the raw data used in the March of Dimes' report, removing duplicate data and births in Georgia by mothers who live out of state.

DPH Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., and March of Dimes’ State Director Sheila Ryan unveiled Georgia’s results Tuesday at a statewide Prematurity Awareness Summit in Macon.

“I’m so proud of our partnership with the March of Dimes,” Fitzgerald said. “Together, our work is touching every corner of the state as we work to ensure that more and more Georgia babies are born with a healthier start in life.”

Babies born prematurely -- before 37 weeks of completed pregnancy -- are at greater risk for a host of health problems, such as breathing problems, developmental disorders and cerebral palsy, and are far more likely to die in infancy than babies born after a complete pregnancy. Preterm births also take a financial toll on families and the nation’s health care system. The direct cost of medical care for a preterm infant born in the U.S. is about $33,200, according to the Institute of Medicine. When additional costs are added, such as the cost of the mother’s medical care, early intervention, special education and lost household productivity, the cost of each birth jumps to nearly $51,600. 

The causes of premature birth vary, and in some cases, are not fully understood. But major risk factors include a lack of prenatal care and a mother’s use of alcohol, drugs or tobacco during her pregnancy. 

DPH has made reducing preterm births in the state a core priority. Initiatives like the Centering Pregnancy program in the Southwest Health District focus on lowering high rates of infant mortality and preterm birth by offering earlier and longer prenatal care through local health departments. 

DPH has also partnered with the Georgia Hospital Association, the March of Dimes and other state partners to discourage early elective births at less than 39 weeks. As of Oct. 1, 2013, Georgia Medicaid no longer pays for early elective deliveries.

The department’s goal is to decrease Georgia’s preterm birth rate to 9.6 percent by 2020, meeting a national challenge set by the March of Dimes and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.