NEW YORK (WABC) -- The March of Dimes says that preterm birth rates remain alarmingly high in the United States, but that there is some improvement.
The 2023 March of Dimes Report Card: The State of Maternal and Infant Health for American Families shows persistent racial disparities across key maternal and infant health indicators, the organization found.
The preterm birth rate improved by a meager 1% to 10.4% from last year's all-time high of 10.5%, earning the country a D+ grade for a second consecutive year.
The report also looked at the rates in individual states.
New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut fared better than the national average with a C+ grade. No states earned an A, but New Hampshire scored the highest with a B+.
Eight states and Puerto Rico earned an "F" - Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia.
As the report is published, March of Dimes says the U.S. remains among the most dangerous developed nations for childbirth with early data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing a 3% increase in infant mortality in 2022-the largest spike in over two decades.
Preterm birth is one of the leading causes of infant death in the U.S. and globally, and the 2023 Report Card shows that 380,548 babies were born before 37 weeks, only 2,534 less babies than the previous report.
Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native (AI/AN) women are 54% more likely to have a preterm birth as compared to White women.
The CDC's 2022 provisional data shows the infant mortality rate increased overall to 5.6 per 1,000 live births, with rates among babies born to Black and AI/AN moms 2.3 times higher than those born to White and Hispanic moms.
The Report Card also highlights that maternal deaths are on the rise, with the rate doubling between 2018 to 2021 from 17.4 to 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Maternal mortality has increased to dangerous levels for all women, and March of Dimes says this is primarily due to cardiovascular conditions and hypertensive disorders.
Similar to infant health, the risk of maternal death and morbidity is even higher for Black and AI/AN moms who all too often face discrimination and racism in the healthcare systems, the organization reports.
What's more, the Maternal Vulnerability Index reveals that states with the highest level of vulnerability and poor outcomes are in the Southeast, Appalachia, and Midwest.
"This year's report shows the state of infant and maternal health in the United States remains at crisis-level, with grave disparities that continue to widen the health equity gap," said Dr. Elizabeth Cherot, March of Dimes President and CEO. "We have long known that many of the factors impacting poor outcomes for moms and babies can and must be addressed if we are to reverse these trends. The fact is, we are not prioritizing the health of moms and babies in this country, and our systems, policies, and environments, as they stand today, continue to put families at great risk."
The data continues a larger trend over the last decade that has pushed the preterm birth rate to record highs. Since last year's report, 14 states have seen an increase in preterm birth, potentially due to factors such as inadequate prenatal care, greater rates of hypertension, and higher proportions of birthing women at an unhealthy weight. Conversely, 32 states have improved, and while many factors may influence preterm birth in each population there is no one root cause for this drop. One explanation for the overall improvement could be the difference in COVID-19 variants during the time frame the data was collected.
New to the Report Card this year are additional risk factors that impact healthy pregnancies and birth. In the U.S., over 37% of women have one or more preexisting health conditions before pregnancy that contribute to preterm birth.
Women with pre-pregnancy diabetes and hypertension experienced a 28.8% and 23.4% rate of preterm birth (respectively). Additional factors that increase the likelihood of preterm birth include smoking (15.2%), unhealthy weight (12.3%), and having a previous preterm birth (30%).
(Information provided by The March of Dimes)