The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is, among other things, a clearinghouse for federally-kept statistics on medical issues. A recent report, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2015, comments on a number of insightful trends, including a decrease in preterm births. This year’s report deals with statistics from 2013.
What is Preterm Birth, and Why Does it Matter?
Preterm birth is defined as a baby who is born before 37 weeks of gestation. The standard measure for a full-term baby is 40 weeks. Babies born preterm have a higher likelihood of serious physical problems, including incomplete lung development. If the lungs are not at full capacity when born, the baby is at a higher risk for deficient oxygenation of the brain, and may have developmental delays or even cerebral palsy.
Of course, there are many reasons for preterm births. Some doctors will voluntarily perform cesarean sections that are best described as late pre-term birth—very close to the 37 weeks. Those deliveries are often convenient for the mother and the doctor, but can have serious and permanent effects on the baby.
In many cases, the mother’s body attempts to deliver the baby naturally before term. Doctors should typically attempt to slow or stop the delivery. If delivery is inevitable, drugs may be given to speed up lung development.
What the Statistics Show
For the seventh straight year, the number of preterm babies born in the United States has decreased. In 2006, 12.8 percent of all births were preterm. In 2012 the rate was 11.5 percent of babies born; in 2013 it is 11.4 percent. That might not seem like much, but with almost 4 million births per year, 0.1 percent means that the preterm birth rate has gone down by about 40,000 babies. Preterm related deaths make up an astounding 35% of all infant deaths.
The NIH report gives other details, breaking down the preterm birth rate by race, and evaluating it in conjunction with low birth weight, which can also be a good indicator of development.
If your baby was born preterm and has problems with lung development, developmental delays or cerebral palsy, contact our medical malpractice attorneys to determine if more should have been done to delay delivery or to protect your child from the effects of preterm birth. You can reach us at (855) 712-7818 or online for a free consultation.
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