March of Dimes released data today that shows improvement in preterm births in Indiana. It's the same day state health officials are hosting an infant mortality summit.
The state lowered its preterm birth rate by more than 8 percent since 2009, earning it a B grade and the March of Dimes Virginia Apgar Campaign Leadership Award, said Tim Arndt, state director of communications for March of Dimes.
The award will be presented to Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. William VanNess II today at the Indiana Infant Mortality Summit in Indianapolis.
The state's renewed emphasis on improving its infant mortality rate — third highest in the country — is compatible with the March of Dimes mission.
"Together, we are making a difference in prematurity," Arndt said. "Preterm birth is the leading cause of death in the first month of life."
Based on 2012 preliminary data, March of Dimes found Indiana reduced its preterm birth rate from 11.9 percent in 2009 to 10.9 percent in 2012, an 8.4 percent reduction.
The national rate is 11.5 percent.
The state health department and March of Dimes collaborate on the Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait educational campaign.
It encourages doctors and expectant mothers to wait for labor to begin on its own, if the pregnancy is healthy. A preterm birth is defined as a birth before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy.
Doctors and pregnant women had been scheduling deliveries before the 39-week mark, said Victor Garcia, division director for March of Dimes of Northwest Indiana.
"A lot were being pre-born unnecessarily," he said.
Hospitals are switching to a 39-week quality improvement, he said.
"The last few weeks before birth really develop the brains and the lungs," he said.
The push to hold off on early deliveries contributed to Indiana's success in lowering its preterm birth rate, he said.
March of Dimes initiated a campaign in 2003 aimed at reducing the rate of preterm birth.
The Virginia Apgar Award recognizes states that met a challenge from the March of Dimes and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials to lower their preterm birth rates 8 percent between 2009 and 2014.
Three other states met the challenge this year.
If every state meets the 8 percent challenge, it would push the nation’s preterm birth rate down to about 11 percent, according to the March of Dimes.