Doctors: cut rates of preterm birth with five steps

A nurse looks after a premature newborn, on December 17, 2010 at a hospital in Havana. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States and other developed countries could be doing a far better job of preventing premature births, reports AP. 

Currently, nearly 1 in 10 births across the developed world are preterm, and about 1 in 8 in the US.

A new study published in the Lancet said that that if wealthier countries did a better job of using five steps proven to help reduce premature birth, together they could lower the rates of premature newborns by an average of 5 percent. 

That would keep 58,000 babies a year from being born too soon. 

Rates of premature birth in the US have dipped slightly after rising steadily for years. Despite the country's high rates of premature birth, doctors know far too little about what causes babies to be born to early, reports CBS News.

The March of Dimes reported this week that the US had a premature birth rate of 11.7 in 2011, the lowest in ten years.

Compared to other nations such as Japan and Sweden, which have a preemie rate of lower than 6 percent, the US is lagging behind. 

A premature birth is considered anything before the end of the 37th week of pregnancy. 

The report recommends these five interventions to reduce the rates of premature birth: 

  • Nearly eliminating induced labors and C-sections scheduled much ahead of mom's due date unless they're medically necessary. Much of recent US. improvement in preterm rates come from reducing elective early deliveries, leading to a drop in "late preemies," babies born a few weeks early.
     
  • Helping women to quit smoking. Smoking at some point during pregnancy varies widely, from 10 percent in Canada to 23 percent in the US. and 30 percent in Spain, the report found.
     
  • Using just one embryo, not multiples, when in vitro fertilization is used.
     
  • Providing regular injections of the hormone progesterone to certain women at high risk, largely because of a prior preterm birth. A recent NIH survey of obstetricians found just 21 percent of eligible patients received the shots.
     
  • Putting a stitch into the cervix of certain high-risk women, those who have what's called a short cervix

The United States government is continuing to recognize the problems caused by the nation's high rate of premature births. In a voice vote late Thursday night, the Senate reauthorized federal research and intervention activities on premature births, reports The Hill.

The vote continues the work first started by the original 2006 bill, which prioritizes the study and prevention of premature births. 

"The PREEMIE Reauthorization Act will save infants’ lives," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes, in a statement.

"Preterm birth rates have now dropped for five consecutive years after rising steadily for three decades. The PREEMIE Reauthorization Act will continue to fuel our progress by supporting federal research and promoting known interventions and community initiatives."