Premature birthrates declined last year in Nebraska and Iowa, a trend cheered Tuesday by March of Dimes officials and medical providers in Omaha.
The March of Dimes said 10.6 percent of Nebraska births were premature last year, down from 11.4 percent in 2010. In Iowa, 11.1 percent were premature in 2011, down from 11.6 percent the previous year.
The March of Dimes’ goal in the two states and nationwide is to bring the premature birth percentage down to 9.6 by 2020. The organization gave both states a B grade.
A premature birth is one that occurs before 37 weeks of gestation. The final few weeks leading to a full term of 39 weeks are important to brain, liver and lung development. Premature babies are more likely to die or suffer feeding difficulties, vision problems and other birth defects.
Physicians also said at the press conference that elective induction of labor and elective cesarean sections before 39 weeks increasingly are discouraged by area hospitals, doctors and medical committees.
Dr. Bill Jurgensen of Alegent Creighton Health said his hospital system for five years now has discouraged those elective procedures. The Methodist Health System and the University of Nebraska Medical Center have similar policies, Jurgensen said. Smoking, drugs and alcohol can lead to premature births, as can working in a place that exposes a woman to chemicals.