The number of babies being born prematurely, which puts them at severe risk of life-threatening conditions and early death – has increased by more than 10 percent over the last decade.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found preterm births, defined as a birth before 37 weeks of gestation, increased by 12 percent between 2014 and 2022 from 7.7 percent to 8.7 percent.
In 2022, provisional CDC data shows there were 3.66million babies born, meaning 318,400 of those children were born preterm.
Pregnancy is measured in weeks as vital development occurs during gestation on a nearly day-to-day basis. And that continues until the final weeks of pregnancy.
During those weeks, a baby’s brain, lungs and liver all continue to develop and babies born too early – especially before 32 weeks – have higher rates of death and disability.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report did note fluctuations in births during the 2020-2022 pandemic years, but reported an overall increasing trend in premature and early births
Early-term births, those at 37 and 38 weeks of gestation also increased, rising from eight percent and 11.6 percent, respectively, in 2014 to 16 and 17.5 percent in 2022.
On the decline were full-term births, measured as 39 to 40 weeks, and late or post-term births, measured as 41 weeks or later.
These declined by 6 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
The report found the largest change in births was those occurring at 37 weeks, which increased by 42 percent over the eight years measured.
The CDC did note fluctuations in births during the 2020-2022 pandemic years, but reported an overall increasing trend in premature and early births.
A separate CDC report from 2022 found that about one-in-10 babies in the US are born prematurely.
Babies who survive an early birth are at an increased risk of developing breathing problems, feeding problems, cerebral palsy, developmental delays and vision and hearing problems.
Pregnancy is measured in weeks as vital development occurs during gestation on a nearly day-to-day basis. And that continues until the final weeks of pregnancy
Preterm and early term births increased for mothers of all ages over the eight years. The largest increase was seen among women giving birth at 40 years of age or older – rising by 16 percent and 22 percent, respectively
While there is no known exact cause of why women go into preterm labor, there are several factors women may have that could increase the likelihood. These include being a teen or woman over 35 years old, having a lower income, belonging to a minority demographic, having a history of early births, being pregnant with twins, triplets or more, suffering from certain comorbidities and using drugs or tobacco during pregnancy.
Healthcare experts have also attributed the rise to increasing rates of obesity and associated conditions, such as type 2 diabetes.
The newest CDC report revealed the rate of preterm births rose an average of two percent each year from 2014 to 2019 and then fluctuated during the pandemic – declining one percent in 2020, increasing four percent in 2021 and declining again by one percent in 2022.
Included in preterm births is early preterm birth, that before 34 weeks of gestation.
These increased four percent from 2014 to 2022.
Preterm and early term births increased for mothers of all ages over the eight years.
The largest increase was seen among women giving birth at 40 years of age or older – rising by 16 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
Late and post-term births among this group also declined the largest amount – by 52 percent.
Women under 20 years old giving birth experienced the smallest changes in preterm and early term births, but both still saw an increase- nine percent and 18 percent, respectively.
Increases were also seen among racial demographics. Hispanic women experienced the largest increase in preterm births – 13 percent and white women experienced the largest increase in early-term births – 22 percent.
Black women experienced the largest decline in full-term, late and post-term births – at nine percent and 31 percent, respectively.
Infants born preterm are at the highest risk of death and early-term birth is associated with poorer outcomes compared to full-term births.
In 2021, infant mortality rates decline by more than one-third each successive week of gestational ages from 37 to 39 weeks.