Premature Birth

Premature birth is defined as delivery before 37 completed weeks of gestation. Babies born prematurely are at greater risk of immediate health problems, such as respiratory distress, jaundice, and anemia, as well as long-term issues such as learning and behavioral problems, cerebral palsy, lung problems, and vision and hearing loss.

Parents were asked whether their children were born prematurely; of children under six years of age, 12.7 percent were premature, as were 11.5 percent of those aged 6 to 11 years and 10.5 percent of those aged 12 through 17 years. The rate reported for children aged 0-5 years is comparable to the average rate reported on birth certificates between 2007 and 2011 of 12.2 percent.1 The lower rates of prematurity among older children reflect the lower rates of premature birth seen in the general population between 1995 and 2006.

Some racial and ethnic groups have higher rates of premature birth. The highest rate was seen among non- Hispanic Black children, of whom 14.4 percent were premature. The lowest rates were reported among Hispanics, of whom 10.6 percent were premature, and non-Hispanic Whites, who had a rate of 11.0 percent.

Children with lower household incomes are also more likely to be born early. Of children with incomes below the Federal poverty level (FPL), 13.5 percent were premature, compared to 10.7 percent of children with incomes of 400 percent of the FPL or more.

1 Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Ventura SJ, Osterman M, Mathews TJ. Births: Final Data for 2011. National Vital Statistics Reports 2013;62(1).