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Tennessee Department of Health says progress made in Preventing Premature Births


Tennessee Department of HealthNashville, TN – The last few weeks and months of pregnancy are an important time for a developing baby’s organs to be fully prepared for birth and life. Those babies who are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed are considered premature or preterm, and may face a variety of short- and long-term health challenges.

Numerous state and national efforts to reduce the rate of premature births have made commendable progress, but Tennessee and the rest of the nation still have room for improvement.

More Work Needed to Ensure Babies Arrive at the Right Time

More Work Needed to Ensure Babies Arrive at the Right Time

For example, between 2005 and 2014, there was a 15 percent reduction in the rate of preterm births in Tennessee, along with a 27 percent decrease in infant deaths due to prematurity.

Among African-American women in Tennessee, the rate of preterm births is about two percentage points higher than the rate for white women.

“I am grateful to health and healthcare partners around our state that we have collectively reduced premature births by 15 percent over the last 10 years and am mindful we must do more,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “More to connect more women to timely and appropriate perinatal care, more to promote healthy practices before conception and during pregnancy and more to assure all families are as prepared as possible for the blessing of a child. About nine percent of babies are born premature in the U.S. compared to 10.8 percent in Tennessee, and there remain large gaps in preterm births between many of our communities as well as significant racial disparities. Premature babies are at increased risk for re-hospitalization and illnesses, including breathing problems, intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy and death. We have made progress and we can and must continue to accelerate it.”

“Ask most moms-to-be whether they want a boy or a girl, and they often say, ‘It doesn’t matter, as long as it is healthy,” said March of Dimes State Director of Program Services Valencia Nelson. “But each year, 15 million babies are born too soon around the world, and nearly one million of them die before their first birthday. The March of Dimes opened five research centers dedicated to finding the unknown causes of premature birth because even babies born just a few weeks too soon have higher rates of death and disability than full-term babies.”

There are several initiatives underway in Tennessee to prevent premature births. One of those is an effort to decrease early elective deliveries, allowing babies to arrive naturally.

“We’ve worked collaboratively with the Tennessee Hospital Association, the March of Dimes and the Tennessee Initiative for Perinatal Quality Care to help parents and health care providers understand the risks associated with early elective deliveries,” said TDH Family Health and Wellness Director Michael Warren, MD, MPH.

“The ‘Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait’ effort stresses the importance of a full-term pregnancy and the need to eliminate non-medically indicated deliveries before 39 weeks. Our hospital and obstetrical partners have done an outstanding job in reducing unnecessary and potentially harmful elective deliveries, from more than 13 percent in 2012 down to around one percent just three years later. ”

For more information about the Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait program, visit

Other major efforts in Tennessee include the Baby and Me Tobacco Free program, conducted in health departments across the state, and evidence-based home visiting programs, which connect high-risk women with prenatal care and counselling.

Both efforts emphasize the harms from pregnancy smoking and how it can affect developing babies. In Tennessee, 15 percent of women smoke during pregnancy, increasing the likelihood that their baby will be born premature and at a low birth weight.

“Premature birth is the number one cause of death in children under five in the U.S.,” Dreyzehner said. “All women should have conversations with their healthcare providers to discuss their risks; these can include high blood pressure, being underweight or obese, diabetes, stress, use of tobacco, use of certain medications, pregnancies which are too close together, infections and other factors. By knowing their risks, women can often take proactive steps to protect their health and the health of their future child.”

To learn more about prematurity, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website

About the Tennessee Department of Health

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments.

Learn more about TDH services and programs at




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