The March of Dimes assigns each state a grade based on how close it comes to the goal established by its Prematurity Campaign: 9.6 percent preterm births by the year 2020. This year, Wisconsin received a ‘B’ on its report card for achieving a rate of 10.5 percent preterm births. On a positive note, the city of Milwaukee has made significant progress toward the goal of lowering its number of ‘preemies,’ from 11.3 percent in 2011 to 10.6 percent last year, the Journal Sentinel reports. And, for the sixth year in a row, the overall U.S. preterm birth rate declined to 11.5 percent, a 15-year low.

“Although we have made great progress in reducing our nation’s preterm birth rate from historic highs, the U.S. still has the highest rate of preterm birth of any industrialized country,” March of Dimes President Dr. Jennifer L. Howse stated in a press release. “We must continue to invest in preterm birth prevention because every baby deserves a healthy start in life.” The organization gave a 'C' to the nation as a whole; click here to see an interactive map.

Race and Preterm Birth Rates

One of the major concerns of the March of Dimes is health disparities and health care inequities, which contribute to higher rates of preterm birth among different racial and ethnic groups. In Wisconsin, preterm birth rates were calculated as follows:

  • Black 16.0 percent
  • Native American 12.3 percent
  • Asian 11.1 percent
  • Hispanic 10.2 percent
  • White 9.6 percent

Although the March of Dimes has seen the comparative rates of preterm birth slowly narrowing among the races in the nation overall, the higher-than-average preterm birth rate among blacks is cause for some distress. For this reason, it may be instructive to look at Maine, which achieved a 9.2 percent preterm birth rate and so was one of only six states given an ‘A’ by the March of Dimes.

That state’s greater distinction, though, is the fact that birth rates among the races showed less inequality than in most states. In Maine, 11 percent of African Americans mothers gave birth prematurely as compared to 7.3 percent of Native Americans, the lowest of all in the state, 9.8 percent of European Americans, 8.4 percent of Asians, and 9.6 percent of Hispanics. Although other states were given an 'A' by the March of Dimes — namely, Alaska, California, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Vermont — they were in some cases close, but not quite as equitable as Maine.

Need-to-Know: Preterm Birth

The March of Dimes celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2013. With chapters nationwide, this nonprofit organization seeks to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality. The organization, which was founded by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to battle polio, which he himself contracted at age 39, provides educational resources and support to families affected by infant health problems. March of Dimes established its Prematurity Campaign in 2003 to address the crisis of a rising premature birth rate throughout the nation.

Obstetricians consider a ‘full-term’ birth to be the optimal time for a mother to give birth: anywhere between 39 weeks and 40 weeks, six days. The birth of a baby prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy is considered ‘preterm.’ Because the final weeks of pregnancy are so important to the growth of a baby, a preterm birth may lead to long-term neurological and physical disabilities. Organ systems, including the brain, lungs, and liver, need a full 39 weeks of pregnancy to fully develop. Each and every day counts!

In fact, preterm-related causes of death accounted for more than one third of all infant deaths in 2009 — higher than any other single cause of death. (Infant mortality encompasses any death up to a baby’s first birthday.) Unfortunately, because the causes of preterm births are complex and poorly understood, prevention is difficult to accomplish. Generally, pregnant women are advised to take these steps to help reduce their risk of preterm birth:

  • Do not smoke.
  • Avoid alcohol and illicit drugs.
  • Get early and regular prenatal care while pregnant.
  • Seek medical attention for any warning signs, such as contractions, of preterm labor.

Women who follow the above rules should increase their chances of giving birth to a full-term baby.