"The next thing that is very easily preventable is for women not to smoke when they're pregnant," Benjamin added. "Not to smoke at all, but particularly when you're pregnant."
Third, women choosing to have an elective cesarean delivery should hold off until after week 39 of their pregnancy before doing so, "because we know that waiting those extra one or two weeks can allow those baby's brains and lungs to develop more fully," she advised.
"That's a very simple thing to do," Benjamin said. "We think pregnancy is nine months, but it's really 40 weeks, which is a little longer than nine months. So, we all need to start thinking about that, because it can really make a difference in the outcome."
In the March of Dimes report, states were graded on how closely they came to meeting the preterm birth objective.
No state earned an 'A' or a 'B.' Vermont, which has the nation's lowest preterm birth rate at 9.5 percent, fell from a 'B' rating last year to a 'C' rating this year because it's preterm birth rate actually ticked up.
New Hampshire and Idaho were the only other states with a preterm birth rate under 10 percent.
All the rest of the states earned 'C's, 'D's and 'F's. Mississippi topped the list with the highest preterm birth rate (18 percent), followed by Alabama (15.6 percent), District of Columbia (15.5 percent), Louisiana (15.4 percent) and South Carolina (14.3 percent). Puerto Rico's preterm birth rate was 19.6 percent.
Despite stubbornly high numbers, most states improved. North Dakota, Kansas, Wyoming and Rhode Island moved up from a 'D' to a 'C'.
Kentucky, which has one of the highest premature birth rates in the nation, dropped from 15.2 percent in 2007 to 14 percent in 2008. Howse credits an extensive public education campaign, "Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait," done in conjunction with the Kentucky Department for
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