According to a new report, 15 million of the 135 million babies born in 2010 around the world were born prematurely. In a country-by-country comparison of 184 nations, the number of U.S. babies born prematurely was as high as in many developing nations.
The report, entitled "Born Too Soon," was compiled as part of the United Nations' "Every Woman Every Child" initiative. It analyzed preterm births (before 37 weeks of the full 40-week gestation) in 184 nations, more than ever previously studied. Of those 184 nations, the U.S. ranked 130 due to high rates of preterm birth.
Nine of the 11 countries in which 15 percent or more of all births are preterm are in Africa. The other two are Pakistan and Indonesia.
In the U.S., 12 percent of all births are preterm. The same is true for Kenya, Turkey, Thailand, East Timor and Honduras. According to the report, the number of preterm births in the United States has risen 30 percent since 1981.
Most European countries, Canada, and Australia are in the 7- to 9-percent range.
So even though hospitals in the U.S. do a good job of saving premature infants, the number of pregnant mothers that give birth prematurely is similar to that in developing nations.
What is different is the reason why a woman gives birth prematurely in the U.S. as compared to say, Kenya. In a poorer country, preterm birth is most often caused by poverty and a lack of access to health care during pregnancy. In the U.S., premature labor is caused by factors such as more older women having babies, multiple pregnancies due to fertility drugs. and preterm Cesarean deliveries or labor inductions scheduled for convenience rather than medical necessity.
"Born To Soon," was produced through a joint effort of the W.H.O., Save the Children, the March of Dimes and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.