In the U.S., more than 500,000 babies are born prematurely each year. But federal health officials are doing something to change that.

The Department of Health and Human Services recently announced more than $40 million in grants will be put towards a new initiative aimed at reducing the number of preterm births and early elective deliveries.

Dr. Manny Alvarez, senior managing health editor of FoxNews.com, recently sat down with Dr. Jennifer Howse, president of the March of Dimes and spoke about the new initiatives, as well as the dangers of premature pregnancy.
“In a word, the danger is, the baby could die, or the baby could have terrible disabilities as a consequence of coming too soon,“ Howse said.

Alvarez said there has been an increase in premature deliveries over the years. Howse explained the most important reason for this is the high number of elective deliveries before 39 weeks.

“As a practicing obstetrician – and I have been doing it for over 25 years – when women get to 34 weeks, women are asking me, ‘When are you taking this baby out?’” Alvarez said. “I think we have to change that mindset a little bit.”

Howse said she thinks that the mindset of moms needs to be changed so they can better understand why those last weeks of pregnancy really count.

Premature births cost 10 times more than normal births – $26 billion a year.

The new federal initiative will test different models of prenatal care to find out the best way to support a healthy pregnancy.

One model of prenatal care that will be tested is called Centering Pregnancy, in which women talk with each other about what can be done to have a healthier pregnancy.

Alvarez stressed the importance of women communicating and supporting each other to have a common theme, and as a team, reaching a goal.

“Our mission is to make sure every baby is born healthy. So we do research, and we do consumer education to make sure that that happens,” Howse said.

For more information on the latest March of Dimes initiative, visit www.marchofdimes.com.