What does this measure?
The percentage of babies born 4 weeks before the mother's due date, out of all live births. This means the gestational age of the baby is less than 36 weeks.
Why is this important?
Preterm babies have a higher prevalence of four major disabilities (cerebral palsy, mental retardation, vision impairment and hearing loss), all of which require special education services. In addition, preterm babies are at greater risk for lower cognitive scores and behavioral problems. Care for the babies is expensive, averaging nearly $300,000 in the first year. And premature births are to some extent preventable, as they are often associated with the mother's smoking, alcohol or drug use, depression or in cases in which mothers are abused.
How is our county doing?
In 2021, 10% of Essex County births were preterm, similar to the state rate and lower than the national rate of 12%. Rates have remained steady in Essex County since 2000, when the rate was 9%, with the exception of its peak of 13% in 2007. Since 2000, the number of premature babies born annually in the county has ranged from about 800 to nearly 1,200.
How do we compare to other counties?
In 2021, the preterm birth rate in Essex County was very similar to Middlesex, MA (10%) and slightly below Lake, IL and Westchester, NY (both at 11%). Since 2012, the preterm birth rate in Essex County has been relatively unchanged, similar to its comparison counties.
Notes about the data
The proportion is calculated out of all live births, except those for which gestational age is unknown.