Nearly a half million American babies were born prematurely in a single year, according to a government report issued today, putting them at increased risk for death and disability.
Some 12.3 percent of all babies - 499,008 infants -- were born prematurely (less than 37 weeks gestation) in 2003. That's up from 12.1 percent (or about 480,000 babies) in 2002 - and an increase of more than 30 percent since the government began tracking premature births in 1981. The prematurity rate was 9.4 in 1981; it has increased every year since then except for slight dips in 1992 and 2000.
Prematurity is the number one killer of newborns. Latest statistics reveal that the prematurity crisis in this country continues to intensify. Babies are dying and those who survive are too often left with devastating consequences - such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, learning problems and blindness.