The United States' preterm birth rate is improving, but still lags behind other countries with significant resources – and while Minnesota as a whole is ahead of the curve, some counties, cities and groups of people have lower rates than others.
March of Dimes released its annual "Premature Birth Report Card" Thursday morning.
The grades are based on the preterm birth rate. March of Dimes has a goal to get the nationwide rate down to 8.1 percent – so if a state, county or city is close to or better than that figure, they get a higher grade.
The U.S. as a whole earned a "C," with March of Dimes noting the preterm birth rate of 9.6 percent in 2014 ranks among the worst in the world for "high-resource countries". The year before, the country was at 11.4 percent.
Overall, Minnesota got a "B" grade for its statewide preterm birth rate of 8.7 percent.
The report pulls in even closer, looking at the rate:
The report card pulled the six counties with the greatest number of births.
Olmsted County was the lowest of the bunch, coming in at 6.5 percent. The highest was Washington County at 9.5 percent – the only one of the MInnesota counties to earn a "C."
The 100 cities with the greatest number of live births in 2013 were ranked by preterm birth rate, then given a grade.
Four cities got an "A" grade – meaning their premature birth rate was 8.1 percent or lower. St. Paul is one of them at 8.0 percent. Portland, Oxnard (California), and Seattle are the other three.
A few percentage points behind is Minneapolis at 8.8 percent, one of 26 cities that got a "B."
The preterm birth rate for Native Americans was found to be the highest in Minnesota among racial/ethnic groups, at 11.6 percent. The Asian population had the lowest figure, at 7.6 percent.
March of Dimes takes each group's preterm birth rate, then compares it to the lowest group's average from 2011-2013. The difference is measured with what March of Dimes calls the "disparity index." Minnesota's disparity index ranked 32nd in the country – meaning 31 states had less disparity between different racial/ethnic groups, according to March of Dimes.
How do you prevent preterm births?
A preterm birth is the birth of an infant before 37 weeks of pregnancy, the CDC says.
It's the greatest contributor to infant death, and also a leading cause of long-term neurological disabilities in children, according to the agency.
So how do you prevent preterm birth?
Risk factors for having a preterm birth include already having a premature baby, getting pregnant too soon after having a baby, being pregnant with more than one child (so twins, triplets etc. etc.), or having a uterus/cervix problem," U.S News and World Report wrote.
There are other steps you can take, including not smoking while pregnant, and avoiding using alcohol or illicit drugs, the CDC says. Stress and high blood pressure during pregnancy can also play a factor.
Other characteristics of those who are more at risk of premature births include when the person is on the younger or older side for getting pregnant, or has low income/socioeconomic status, the CDC says.