Dr. Gene Burkett, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that "it's a little too early to be sure if this is a trend. Obviously, it is encouraging."
Burkett thinks one reason for the decline is a change in how women at risk for preterm delivery are treated. "We now take more of a prevention mode," he said.
In addition, conditions that lead to premature delivery such as diabetes and high blood pressure are also managed better, he pointed out. "We have been more aggressive in trying to stabilize those diseases," he explained.
"For two years it's encouraging, but it's not low enough and we need to see a substantial period of time before we can say this is really decreasing," Burkett said.
March of Dimes president Jennifer L. Howse said that "over two years we are looking at a decline of 4 percent, which is, I think, a significant tipping point in this health problem."
Over the past 30 years, there have been increases in the preterm birth rate every year, Howse noted. "The fact that we have two years in a row of small, but nevertheless, significant drops is eye-catching," she said.
Howse noted the 4 percent drop between 2006 and 2008 means that "21,000 babies were spared the serious health risks of a premature birth."
However, Howse also thinks it's too early to call it a trend.
Several factors may be contributing to the decline, Howse said. For one, there is more awareness of the problem of prematurity by both women and the medical community, she said.
In addition, fewer women are having multiple births related to fertility treatments, she said. "All of the controversy around 'Octomom' did raise people's awareness," Howse said.
"Octomom" is Nadya Suleman, an unmarried American woman who drew internationa
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