A 2016 report from non-profit organization March of Dimes shows that the nation’s preterm birth rate has increased for the first time in eight years. The group gives Missouri a C for its number of premature births. One in ten Missouri babies are born before their due date. Dr. Sessions Cole with Washington University in St. Louis tells Missourinet the state has not made any significant improvement in its premature birth rate.

Dr. Sessions Cole

“This is an alarming problem for everyone in the state of Missouri. Certainly for moms and dads, but also it should be alarming for our government colleagues and especially for our business community,” says Cole. “Babies who are born too soon, before their due dates, are very much at increased risks for a variety of long term health problems and they are also at risk for needing more care immediately after they are born.”

Cole says St. Louis city’s premature birth rate is 2.5% higher than the state’s – leading the March of Dimes to give St. Louis an F on its report card.

He also says the report highlights an ongoing high rate among African-American childbearing women. In Missouri, like in the United States, they are about 49% more likely to have a premature birth than white women.

“No one really understands why African-American women have this increase risk during their pregnancy,” says Cole.

The Missouri House has passed a bill that would create a system to ensure pregnant women and babies would get access to care. The measure, which is sponsored by Rep. Marsha Haefner (R-St. Louis) has moved to the Senate.

“In states where there have been intentional government-led and insurance company and business-led initiatives to reduce the preterm birth rate, there has been some success,” says Cole.

Over the years, the definition of prematurity has changed. Cole says a baby born more than a week is considered a premature baby.

He says there are many causes for babies who are born too soon. Cole says the
problems are generally not the mother’s fault.

“These problems include things like an infection can occur during the pregnancy in the womb. Sometimes the mother’s health condition can deteriorate because of the pregnancy and requires that the baby be delivered early,” says Cole.

He also says there can be problems with the shape of the womb or the placenta.

“It’s very important that we try to do everything we can to help everyone understand when moms are at risk for preterm birth and help moms do whatever they can to prevent preterm birth,” says Cole.

The March of Dimes gathers data from the Departments of Health in each state to compile the annual report.