Premature deliveries have declined in the United States over the past few years – in some states, by more than 10 percent – according to the March of Dimes 2011 Premature Birth Report Card.

“It is good news,” said Dr. Jennifer Howse, president of March of Dimes.

Nevertheless, the organization still gave the United States a “C” on its annual report card. The grade actually marks an improvement over previous years, when the nation was given a failing grade in its efforts against premature births.

“The United States started way behind in this problem,” Howse said. “We were failing very badly, so now we’re getting a little better than we were.”

Premature birth is the leading cause of infant mortality and can lead to a host of other health problems, such as respiratory distress syndrome, jaundice and anemia.

Risk factors for premature delivery include family history of preterm birth, smoking, obesity and stress. Another risk factor? Having your baby – either through induced labor or cesarean section – before 39 weeks.

However, Howse said that certain factors are improving. There is better enrollment among women in prenatal care, improved treatments to prevent premature labor and fewer women smoking.

Also, more women and hospitals are adhering to guidelines recommending that mothers-to-be wait until 39 weeks before electing to give birth.

“Healthy babies are worth the wait,” Howse said.

For more information on premature birth, prevention strategies and risk factors, visit the March of Dimes website at www.marchofdimes.com.