OKLAHOMA CITY — The rate of premature births in Oklahoma declined slightly this year, the Oklahoma State Department of Health said Friday, but the state still received a grade of "D'' on the March of Dimes 2013 Premature Birth Report Card.
The Health Department said premature births fell from 13.2 percent in 2012 to 13 percent in 2013. The national rate is 11.5 percent.
Premature birth is considered to be birth before 37 full weeks of pregnancy and is the leading cause of newborn deaths. Babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifetime health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities, among other challenges.
The March of Dimes' goal is to reduce the preterm birth rate to 9.6 percent.
"Partnerships with our state health officials and local hospitals have helped us make newborn health a priority and lowered our preterm birth rate, making a difference in babies' lives," said Belinda Rogers, director of programs for the Oklahoma chapter of the March of Dimes. "We will continue to work to give all babies a healthy start in life because too many are born too soon, before their lungs, brains or other organs are fully developed."
Rogers said the March of Dimes and its partners are focused on efforts to end unrequired scheduled C-sections and inductions before 39 weeks through the Every Week Counts partnership.
As a result, Oklahoma birthing hospitals have achieved an 86 percent decrease in early elective deliveries in Oklahoma, resulting in more women having full-term pregnancies and healthy babies, Rogers said.