The rate of preterm births, defined as babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, has risen significantly in the United States over the past decade, according to new data from the CDC. The concerning 12% increase from 2014 to 2022 indicates more infants are facing serious health risks associated with early delivery.
The new report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reveals shifting trends across gestational ages. While preterm births rose, early-term births at 37-38 weeks jumped by 20%. Meanwhile, full-term births declined by 6% and post-term births after 42 weeks dropped 28%.
“Gestational age is a strong predictor of short- and long-term morbidity and early mortality,” the study states. “Births delivered preterm are at the greatest risk of adverse outcomes, but risk is also elevated for early-term compared with full-term births.”
Black and Hispanic mothers saw the steepest increases in preterm births over the 8-year period. For Black women, the preterm rate climbed from 11.12% in 2014 to 12.51% in 2021 before slightly decreasing to 12.34% in 2022. The preterm birth rate for Hispanic women went from 7.72% to 8.72% between 2014 and 2022.
Racial disparities persist, as Black women had a preterm rate of 45.05% for births less than full-term in 2022 compared to 34.99% for white women. Experts say economic and healthcare inequities for minority groups contribute to higher risks.
Older mothers above 40 also faced greater likelihood of preterm birth at 12.52% versus 8.24% for women ages 20-29. Carrying multiples, infections, stress, tobacco and drug use can increase chances of early delivery. However, the causes remain unknown in many cases.
“It is important to note the percentage of births delivered at less than full term was higher for Black mothers compared with White and Hispanic mothers throughout the study period,” the CDC report emphasizes.
Preterm infants are at higher risk for breathing problems, neurological complications, gastrointestinal issues and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Babies born too early often require intensive medical care and extended hospital stays after birth. Many face long-term disabilities and chronic health conditions.
Experts say the rise in preterm births underscores the need to address risk factors and racial inequities in prenatal care. More research is needed to understand all the reasons behind shifting trends in gestational ages. But priority must go to improving access and reducing barriers to adequate pregnancy care, especially in minority communities.
Early prenatal visits, managing chronic conditions, reducing stress levels, improving nutrition, and avoiding smoking/substance use can lower risks for mothers. But systemic change is required to reverse the troubling upward trend in preterm births in America.