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1 In 10 Kentucky Babies Born Premature, Report Says

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A new report says more than one in 10 babies are born premature in Kentucky.

The state has a premature birth rate of 10.7 percent, ranking it 38th in the U.S., according to the 2015 Premature Birth Rate Report Card. The report gave Kentucky  a "D" grade for its premature birth rate.

Nationally, the premature birth rate is 9.6 percent. Indiana's premature birth rate was 9.7.

Kenton and Warren counties had the highest premature birth rates in the state at 10.9 percent and 10.8 percent, respectively, according to the report produced by the March of Dimes. Close behind is Jefferson County with a rate of 10.6 percent.

Tracey Reed, regional program director for March of Dimes, said several risk factors contribute to Kentucky's preterm birth rate, including maternal smoking and elective early deliveries. Kentucky has the highest rate of smoking in the U.S.

She said the Greater Kentucky March of Dimes Chapter is working to train health care providers on how to intervene with pregnant women who want to quit smoking.

The report defined preterm birth as happening less than 37 weeks based on the estimated gestational age.

Many women and their health care provider schedule labor inductions or Cesarean sections before reaching 39 weeks of pregnancy when there is no medical reason to do so, she said. Not all premature babies are born with complications, but preterm birth carries a risk of short- and long-term health issues, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"If the mom has high blood pressure or preeclampsia or some other risk factor that puts her and the baby in danger, then scheduling a delivery may be the best thing. But we still have too many of those deliveries that are scheduled and there's really no medical reason," Reed said.

But Reed said the report shows that Kentucky is doing a good job of preventing premature births, but there is still work to do.

"We still have about one in 10 babies in Kentucky that's born preterm each year, and so we would really like to continue to decrease that number," she said.

The report also noted racial disparities related to preterm birth.  Black women have the highest rate, making up 13.3 percent of preterm birth rates in the state. The report shows 11.1 percent of white women, 8.7 percent of Hispanic women, and 8.4 percent of Asian women have premature births.

Reed said adjusting for education, income and access to prenatal care, black women are still at a higher risk of delivering too soon.

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