Premature births in the United States in 2021 reached their highest point since 2007, according to the March of Dimes Report Card on maternal and infant health.
In 2021, 10.5 percent of babies born in the U.S. were premature, or born before 37 weeks of gestational age, a 4 percent increase from 2020. Just four states saw a decrease in premature births.
Babies born early are more likely to face health issues than babies born around 40 weeks, and complications can persist into adulthood, according to March of Dimes.
“The report card indicates the maternal and infant health crisis is worsening for all families,” the group concluded, calling the rise in premature births “troubling.”
The U.S. overall received a D+ on the report card, a notch lower than its C- rating in 2020.
Vermont was the only state to score a top grade, earning an A- with the country’s lowest premature birth rate of 8 percent.
Oregon, Washington, California and Idaho all scored B grades with premature birth rates at or near 9 percent, as did New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
Nine states, mostly clustered in the southeast, and Puerto Rico earned an F. Mississippi had the highest premature birth rate, at 15 percent, followed by Louisiana at 13.5 percent and Alabama at 13.1 percent.
The report also highlighted racial disparities in premature birth rates.
“Our data reveals that racial differences in birth outcomes persist in the U.S. Infants
born to Black and Native American moms are 62 percent more likely to be born preterm
than those born to White women,” the report reads.
March of Dimes called on Congress to take a number of steps to shore up health care for women and babies, like permanently extending Medicaid postpartum coverage to 12 months after birth and passing legislation to expand access to midwifery care.