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Minnesota's premature birth rate up slightly

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There's good and bad news for Minnesota in a new report about premature birth rates.

The good: Minnesota has seen a decrease in the number of pregnant women who smoke, the number of teens who give birth and the number of doctors who induce labor too soon. And Minnesota's 10.2 percent premature birth rate is still below the national average for preterm births (11.5 percent).

But here's the bad: The state was one of just 17 that failed to lower its premie rate last year – the rate inched up from 9.9 percent in 2011 to 10.2 percent in 2012.

"It's disappointing for us," Danielle Prenevost, a spokeswoman for the March of Dimes Minnesota Chapter, told MPR News. "We really did expect to do better."

Health officials in the state hope the increase is just a one-year aberration amid a decade of improvements, the Star Tribune reports.

Minnesota is one of 19 states that the March of Dimes in its report gives a "B" on its 2013 premature birth report card. Only six states got an "A" (Alaska, California, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont).

Here are more state facts for Minnesota from the March of Dimes report.

As a nation, the U.S. has a long way to go to improve, given a national premature birth rate of 11.5 percent, the report says. The March of Dimes concludes: "With 1 in 9 babies born too soon, our country’s rate is higher than that of most developed nations." The nation got an overall "C" grade, even though its preterm birth rate dropped for a sixth year in a row.

Another March of Dimes report found that the U.S. ranked 131st out of 184 nations for premature births, with a rate about the same as Somalia, Turkey and Thailand and considerably higher than the rate in China, Serbia and Iraq. (Find that list of nations here.)

Doctors say a complicated array of factors can lead to premature births, and in up to 40 percent of cases doctors never pinpoint exactly why it happens, MPR reported. A mother's poor health and a lack of prenatal care increase the likelihood of a preterm birth.

Experts say that premature birth, officially defined as before the 37th week of pregnancy, is the leading cause of newborn deaths in the United States and can contribute to life-long health and development problems, USA Today noted. Doctors need to learn more about it before the nation's premie rate can be sustainably reduced, Craig Rubens, executive director of the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth, told USA Today.

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