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30 Preterm Birth Statistics and Facts (What Is Preterm Birth?)

Discover the critical aspects of preterm birth, from frequency to prevention strategies.

A preterm birth is defined as babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. There are also varying degrees of preterm birth, such as extremely preterm, very preterm, and late preterm.

Being born preterm is associated with a variety of health and development risks, and it’s essential to be aware of them. That’s why we put together an educational list of 30 preterm birth statistics and facts.

We’ll cover preterm birth rates in the U.S. and other countries, common causes of premature labor, and the health consequences for early babies. Keep reading for more information.

5 Key Facts About Preterm Birth and Labor

Below are five quick premature birth statistics and facts. For more in-depth facts and information, we have more statistics to share through this post.

  1. In the U.S., about 10 percent of babies are born preterm.
  2. Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi are among some of the states with the highest preterm birth rates.
  3. About 13.4 million babies were born prematurely in the world in 2020.
  4. Risk factors for preterm birth include the mother’s age, especially for women younger than 17 or older than 35.
  5. Premature babies are more likely to have problems with their communication and learning.

What Is a Premature Birth?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the definition of a preterm birth is when a baby is born early, before 37 weeks gestation (1). The World Health Organisation (WHO) breaks it down into three categories:

  • Extremely preterm (before 28 weeks).
  • Very preterm (before 32 weeks).
  • Moderate to late preterm (between 32 and 37 weeks).

Babies are born premature either through spontaneous labor or through a medical intervention, such as a scheduled induction or c-section.

Babies are always developing, even during the last few weeks of pregnancy. The brain, lungs, and liver require the last few weeks for their full development. Babies born premature (also known as a preemie), especially before 32 weeks, are at a higher risk of health complications and mortality.

In 2021, the death rate for preterm babies and those with low birth weight in the U.S. was 14.8 per 100 babies.

30 Statistics and Facts About Preterm Births

Whether you’re curious to know more or you’ve been affected by an early birth, you might be interested in these 30 preterm labor statistics and facts. All are founded through official studies and government research, so you can be sure they are accurate and up to date.

Preterm Birth Rates and Statistics

Let’s first look at preterm birth rates in the U.S., how often they happen, how they change by year, and who is affected.

  1. One in 10: In 2022, about 10 percent of infants were born preterm. This amounted to 383,979 births.
  2. Declining rates: In 2022, the rate of preterm births was 10.4 percent, one percent less than the previous year. Between 2020 and 2021, there was a four percent increase.
  3. COVID-19 heightened preterm birth rates: When the percentage of preterm births increased between 2020 and 2021, studies found that this was intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic (2). The U.S. was considered one of the most dangerous developed countries to give birth in.
  4. Preterm rates among Black women: Black women had a 50 percent higher chance of having a preterm birth. The rate in 2022 was 14.6 percent for Black women, 9.4 percent for white women, and 10.1 percent for Hispanic women.
  5. Over 70,000 preterm babies per week: In the U.S., about 70,000 babies are born preterm week by week (3).
  6. Some US states have higher rates: Twenty-three states in America have a higher than 10.4 percent rate. This includes Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Nevada.
  7. Some US states have lower rates: Some U.S. states met the Healthy People 2030 goal, which is 9.4 percent. This includes Oregon, California, Vermont, and New Jersey.

Premature Birth Rates by Country

If the U.S. is one of the most dangerous developed countries for childbirth, let’s look at how it compares to other countries, including other developed countries.

  1. Preterm birth in Canada: Around eight percent of babies are born preterm each year (4). This amounts to about 25,000 babies. Between 1992 and 2021, the preterm birth rates increased by 20 percent to 7.8 percent.
  2. Preterm birth rates worldwide: About 13.4 million babies were born prematurely in 2020. The rate ranged from four percent to 16 percent, depending on the country. Overall, preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death for children five or younger.
  3. Preterm birth in the UK: There were about 53,000 preterm births in the U.K. in 2021 (5). The rate of preterm births in England and Wales is 7.6 percent. This was a slight increase from 7.4 percent in 2020.
  4. Preterm birth rate in Mexico: Mexico has a preterm birth rate of 7 percent (6).
  5. Preterm birth rates in Nigeria: The preterm delivery rate in Nigeria is 9.9 percent (7).
  6. Preterm birth rates in Nordic countries: In 2021, about 4.8 percent of live births were preterm (8). Sweden’s rate was 5.5 percent, and Denmark’s rate was 6.2.
  7. India preterm birth rate: In 2020, India was found to have a 13 percent preterm birth rate (9). This amounted to just over three million babies. This accounts for over 20 percent of preterm births worldwide.
  8. Preterm birth rates in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa: In 2014, there were an estimated 14.84 million preterm births (10). Of these, 81.1 percent were in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa; 13.4 percent were in North Africa, and 8.7 percent were in Europe. Five countries alone (India, China, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Indonesia) accounted for 6.6 million preterm births.

Risk Factors for Preterm Labor

While preterm labor can occur spontaneously and without apparent reason, there are important risk factors to note. These factors can increase a person’s chance of delivering their baby earlier than 37 weeks.

  1. Delivered preterm before: If a woman has delivered a premature baby before or experienced preterm labor before, she has a higher risk of another preterm labor (11).
  2. Expecting multiples: Women expecting multiples (twins, triplets, etc.) have a higher chance of preterm labor. In fact, one study found that more than 50 percent of twins were born premature, compared to 10 percent of singletons.
  3. Being underweight or overweight: Being underweight or overweight before pregnancy can increase your chances of delivering early (12). This also includes having an eating disorder.
  4. A mother’s age: Women younger than 17 and older than 35 are more likely to deliver preterm (13). Teenagers are more likely to experience high blood pressure and avoid necessary health care, whereas older women are more likely to have existing health issues.
  5. Short cervix: A short cervix can increase the chances of preterm birth (14). During pregnancy, the cervix will gradually soften and open to prepare the mother for birth. Sometimes, the cervix can soften and shorten prematurely, causing preterm birth. If the cervix is less than 25 millimeters long before 24 weeks gestation, the mother may need a small procedure to reinforce the cervix.
  6. Back-to-back pregnancies: If a mother has had less than six months between pregnancies, she is at risk of preterm birth (15). Ideally, a mother would wait between 18 and 24 months to get pregnant again.
  7. Certain medical conditions: Certain medical histories and conditions can increase a woman’s chance of giving birth preterm. This includes UTIs, STIs, high blood pressure, vaginal bleeding, diabetes, and blood clotting issues.
  8. Ethnicity: Unfortunately, preterm birth rates vary depending on a woman’s race (16). Non-Hispanic Black women are more likely to have a preterm birth than non-Hispanic white women (17). Black women have a 14.4 percent rate of preterm births, whereas white women only have a 9.3 percent rate. American Indian and Alaska Native women have an 11.8 percent rate; Hispanic women have a 10 percent rate; Asian and Pacific Islander women have a nine percent rate.

Health Consequences For Preterm Babies

If a family goes through preterm labor, it can be a difficult and stressful time. It’s important to be aware of the potential health risks associated with preterm birth, both short and long-term so that you can be prepared and informed. Here are seven significant risks that may arise.

  1. Effects on the baby’s brain: Preterm birth can affect a baby’s brain, causing problems with physical development, communication, and learning (18).
  2. Cerebral palsy: Preterm labor can be a risk factor for cerebral palsy, a condition that affects the part of the brain that controls the muscles. This can lead to problems with movement, posture, and balance.
  3. Breathing problems: One of the main complications for a premature baby is problems with breathing as their lungs aren’t developed fully (19). They might not be able to get enough air, leading to respiratory distress syndrome. Most babies outgrow breathing pauses, called apnea, but others might develop more rare disorders, such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia. They may need oxygen for a few weeks or months.
  4. Heart problems: Some premature babies experience heart problems, including low blood pressure or patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). Without treatment, this can lead to heart failure.
  5. Increased risk for SIDS: Babies born prematurely have a higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In fact, preterm babies are tw
  6. Early death in later years: Studies have found two to three times more likely to die of SIDS than full-term babies (20). And that even preterm babies who survived past the first year have a higher chance of early death later in life (21). There is an increased mortality rate between ages one and five for preterm babies. There is also an increased death rate for people 18 to 36 if they were born preterm. In fact, one study found the survival rate for those aged 18-43 without significant comorbidities was 55 percent for those born preterm and 63 percent for those born full-term.
  7. Kidney problems: Babies born before 28 weeks are more likely to have problems with their kidney development (22). The kidneys may struggle to filter waste from blood, produce urine, and remove waste without excreting excess fluids. This is treated through fluid and salt restriction, and it can be resolved within a few days.

How Can Premature Births Be Prevented?

Preterm birth is often entirely out of our control. However, sometimes, families can do certain things to increase the prevention of premature birth. This includes:

  • Space pregnancies apart: Try to allow at least 18 months between pregnancies.
  • Get prenatal care: When you find out you’re pregnant, inform your doctor and get proper prenatal care.
  • Stop smoking: Cut out smoking. Smoking is a significant cause of preterm birth.
  • Stop drinking alcohol: Cut out alcohol and drugs during pregnancy.
  • Watch your weight: Make sure you eat enough during pregnancy and are gaining enough weight. Being underweight can lead to premature birth.
  • Manage stress: Try to manage stress during pregnancy.
  • Drink enough water: Drink enough water during your pregnancy. For most women, this should be about 64 ounces per day. This can also decrease the chance of urinary tract infections, which can cause preterm labor.
  • Treat chronic diseases: If you have a chronic disease, make sure you’re getting proper treatment before and during pregnancy.
  • Take folic acid: Pregnant women should take at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily. Vitamin D and C are also important.
  • Practice good hand hygiene: Wash your hands regularly to prevent infections.


What Are the Warning Signs of Premature Labor?

If you experience any of the below symptoms before 37 weeks gestation, you could be going into early labor. Contact your health provider as soon as possible for advice.

  • Contractions: If you experience regular contractions (six or more per hour).
  • Cramps: Cramps, similar to menstrual cramps, in the lower abdomen that are constant or infrequent.
  • Braxton-Hicks: False labor contractions, called Braxton-Hicks, are felt in the upper stomach or in the lower back.
  • Change in vaginal discharge: Experiencing watery or bloody discharge or mucus.
  • Pressure: Pressure in your pelvis or lower abdomen, as if the baby is pushing down.
  • Waters break: Your waters break, or you have unexpected leakage.

Do Premature Babies Have Problems Later in Life?

There are a few possible long-term effects for premature babies. Not every premature baby is affected. This can include cerebral palsy, additional learning difficulties, visual impairment, hearing impairment, poor health, and delayed growth.

Some children may even have behavior and everyday social challenges, such as ADHD, and they may experience chronic diseases when they are older.

When Is Pregnancy Viability?

Pregnancy viability, also known as fetal viability, is the time period when a fetus is likely to survive outside of the womb. Generally, this is considered after 24 weeks gestation (23). However, some babies born before 24 weeks will survive.

The chances of a preemie surviving after 24 weeks are about 60 to 70 percent. Babies born after 28 weeks have an 80 to 90 percent survival rate. Babies born after 32 weeks gestation have a higher survival rate, at 95 percent.

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a Scottish freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism and English literature. She is a mum to a young boy, and believes that it truly takes a village. When she’s not parenting, writing about parenting, or working, she can be found reading, working on her novel, taking photos, playing board games or wandering through the countryside with her family.