The rate of premature births has reduced substantially in the forty States and the District of Columbia, but the overall U.S. score is still far from improvement. Each State gets ranked by the March of Dimes every year according to the rate of premature births, a leading cause of newborn deaths.

Federal government's Healthy People 2010 campaign set a 7.6 per cent target, but the current rate is still substantially high, said Jennifer Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "We feel we have reached a tipping point in our country around this problem," Howse said. "We are encouraged because many of the programs we have worked on together with our partners are in place and starting to work."More needs to be done, suggests U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin.

"Over half a million babies are born every year preterm, and it is the leading cause of death among newborns," Benjamin said. "As Surgeon General, prevention is my priority, and we need to prevent that."

The common health complications included cerebral palsy, lung problems, digestion problems and vision problems.

"One, we can provide insurance for pregnant women. Because we know that having those prenatal check-ups and exams can really make a difference," Benjamin explained."The next thing that is very easily preventable is for women not to smoke when they're pregnant," Benjamin added. "Not to smoke at all, but particularly when you're pregnant."

He also noted that those choosing to have an elective cesarean delivery should hold off until after week 39 of their pregnancy, allowing the infants lungs and brains develop fully. "That's a very simple thing to do," Benjamin said.

In the March of Dimes report, States were graded on how closely they came to meeting the preterm birth objective

States were graded on how close they were to the target, and none of them earned an ‘A’ or ‘B’ rating. According to the report, Vermont fell from ‘B’ to ‘C’ and New Hampshire and Idaho were the only other States with a preterm birth rate under 10 per cent. Rest of the States earned ‘C’s, D’s and F’s.

Kentucky with the highest premature birth rates dropped from 15.2 per cent in 2007 to 14 per cent in 2008.

Health campaigns tried to educate women about the risk of smoking, poor nutrition, and obesity among others. However, Howse noted that physicians also required education apart from patients themselves.

"Women really need support to understand that a pregnancy is 40 weeks, and scheduling an elective induction or C-section prior to that can be quite detrimental to the baby," Howse said.

According to March of Dimes, about 543,000 babies, are born prematurely each year in the United States.