Interventions could lower preterm birth rates by 5%

Lowering preterm birth rates by an average of 5% across 39 high-resource countries, including the United States, by 2015 would prevent prematurity for 58,000 babies a year and save billions of dollars in economic costs, according to a panel of international experts.

“Governments and health professionals in these 39 countries need to know that wider use of proven interventions can help more women have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies,” Hannah H. Chang, MD, PhD, the report’s lead author and a consultant with The Boston Consulting Group, said in a news release. “A 5% reduction in the preterm birth rate is an important first step.”

“The preterm birth rate in the U.S. currently is on the decline, but for this trend to continue, it’s critical that high-resource countries such as ours focus vigorously on prevention,” said Christopher Howson, PhD, a study coauthor and vice president of global programs for the March of Dimes.

Reporting Nov. 16 on the website of The Lancet, the authors wrote that five proven interventions taken together would lower the preterm rate across 39 countries from an average 9.6% of live births to 9.1%, and save $3 billion in health and economic costs.

The interventions are:

• Eliminating early cesarean deliveries and inductions from labor unless medically necessary.

• Decreasing multiple embryo transfers during assisted reproductive technologies.

• Helping women quit smoking.

• Providing progesterone supplementation to women with high-risk pregnancy.

• Cervical cerclage for high-risk women with a short cervix.

“The means to reduce the risk of preterm birth by 5% are already available,” said Catherine Y. Spong, MD, associate director for extramural research at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development. “Continued research into the causes of preterm birth has the potential to reduce the proportion of infants born into preterm even further.”

Preterm birth — birth before 37 weeks completed gestation — is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face a lifetime of health challenges that may include breathing problems, cerebral palsy and motor and intellectual disabilities, among others.

The 5% figure builds on recommendations from the May 2012 publication “Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth” (, which presented the first preterm birth data for 184 countries and outlined steps that all countries could take to help prevent preterm birth and care for affected newborns. About 15 million babies worldwide are born preterm each year and more than 1 million die as a direct result of their early birth. According to “Born Too Soon,” the U.S. preterm birth rate ranked 131st out of 184 countries.

The Lancet study’s abstract is available at

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