More babies being born too soon, report shows; March of Dimes says now is not the time to cut maternity benefits

June 30, 2017

As new data from the federal government shows that the health of pregnant women and babies is getting worse, the March of Dimes says now is not the time to cut maternity benefits. 

The National Center for Health Statistics today released provisional birth data that show that the preterm birth rate rose to 9.84 percent in 2016, up 2 percent from 9.63 in 2015, marking the second consecutive increase after steady declines over the previous seven years. 

“As the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, the March of Dimes is working to ensure that every baby has the healthiest start in life,” says Stacey D. Stewart, president of the March of Dimes. “The increase in the preterm birth rate is an alarming indication that the health of pregnant women and babies in our country is heading in the wrong direction.”

“Preterm birth is the number one cause of death among babies and a leading cause of lifelong disabilities,” Ms. Stewart says. “Now is the time to increase our investments in a healthier nation by expanding access to quality prenatal care and promoting proven ways to help reduce the risk of preterm birth, such the group model of prenatal care and helping women quit smoking. It is not the time to make it harder for women to get the care they need to have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.”

As the Senate considers the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), Ms. Stewart says, the March of Dimes is concerned by proposed cuts to Medicaid and other changes to rules about maternity and newborn care. The March of Dimes estimates that ending Medicaid expansion would result in up to 6.5 million women of childbearing age becoming uninsured. Combined with the rules changes, this would mean fewer pregnant women would receive prenatal care, and fewer premature babies would receive the specialized treatment they need to survive and thrive. 

Ms. Stewart noted that persistent underlying racial and ethnic disparities play a role in preterm birth. “March of Dimes work to give every baby a healthy start is more vital than ever. It is unacceptable that black women have a preterm birth rate about 50 percent higher than the rate among white women. The chance of a baby’s survival should not depend on where a baby is born, or the income, race, and ethnicity of her mom,” she says. 

Focusing specifically on the nation’s most challenged communities, March of Dimes seeks broader use of proven interventions to prevent preterm birth, including:

  1. Wider use of group prenatal care;
  2. Reducing non-medically indicated (elective) deliveries;
  3. Reducing tobacco use among women before, during, and after pregnancy;
  4. Increasing use of progesterone for women with a history of prior preterm birth;
  5. Optimizing birth spacing (waiting 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again) and reducing unintended pregnancies;
  6. Increasing use of low-dose aspirin to prevent preeclampsia;
  7. Advancing interventions for women diagnosed with a short cervix;
  8. Reducing multiple births conceived through assisted reproductive technology,

The March of Dimes urges everyone concerned about the health of babies to make their voices heard by going to

“Births: Provisional Data for 2016,” by Brady E. Hamilton et al. was published today by the National Center for Health Statistics.