Premature Births Increase in Puerto Rico, Lack of Health Insurance Major Factor

Smoking and lack of health insurance are some of the factors contributing to premature births.

Smoking and lack of health insurance are some of the factors contributing to premature births.  (Getty)

For the fifth year in a row, the amount of premature births has decreased in the United States, but not every location has received a passing grade. is reporting that the March of Dimes has issued its 2012 Premature Birth Report Card, issuing a “C” for the U.S. because the preterm birth rate continues to be high. While the 2011 rate was the lowest in 10 years, nearly half a million babies are still born prematurely.

“The rate of preterm birth (was) at 11.7 percent, which is the lowest we’ve seen in a decade,” said Dr. Edward McCabe, medical director for the March of Dimes. “That means 64,000 fewer babies were born prematurely in 2010 compared to 2006, the peak year for preterm birth. Along with the personal cost, there’s also an economic cost, and there’s a potential savings of $3 billion in health care and economic costs associated with those 64,000 babies not being born preterm.”

Despite the positive news for the states, Puerto Rico received a failing grade. Its preterm birth rate is 17.6 percent, higher than Alabama (14.9), Louisiana (15.6) and Mississippi (16.9).

A report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the decline of infants being born less than full term is important because there are higher risks of health complications for babies born earlier than expected (39-41 weeks). A preterm birth occurs less than 37 weeks of pregnancy.

“Preterm birth is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive face an increased risk of life-long health challenges, including cerebral palsy, breathing problems, intellectual disabilities and other problems,” explains Dr. José F. Cordero, Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Puerto Rico and member of the March of Dimes Board of Trustees. “We must do better for the future health of our children by continuing to work on prevention with proven strategies and new research to help more babies be born full-term.”

Dr. Cordero also notes that a 2010 census reveals Hispanics are the fastest growing population in the U.S., making it crucial to educate Latinos on how to reduce premature births.

The March of Dimes states several major factors contributing to preterm births including smoking, lack of health insurance, early labor or a scheduled cesarean delivery without a medical reason.

“The increase rate of preterm birth (PTB) in Puerto Rico is mainly due to the low socioeconomic conditions there,” says Dr. Annette Perez-Delboy, Director of Labor and Delivery at Columbia University Medical Center. “Many people are uninsured and undocumented who may have come from the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean islands. Black and women of Hispanic origin have an increased risk of PTB. These women begin prenatal care later and have fewer prenatal visits compared with the general population.”

“The last few weeks are critical to a baby’s health because many important organs, including the brain and lungs, are not completely developed until then,” says Cordero.

Both doctors advocate expecting mothers to attend all prenatal appointments to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Studies on how to further prevent preterm births are ongoing.