In the United States, about 12.8 percent of babies (more than half a million a year) are born prematurely. The rate of premature birth has increased by 36 percent since the early 1980s. Premature birth occurs in between 8 percent to 10 percent of all pregnancies in the United States
  • In 2001, the preterm birth rate was 11.9%, reflecting more than 476,000 newborns and the highest rate ever reported for the U.S. This represents 1 in 8 babies in the U.S. born prematurely.
  • The rate of preterm birth increased 27% between 1981 and 2001 from 9.4% to 11.9%.
  • On an average day in the U.S., 1,305 babies are born preterm (before 37 weeks), 213 are born very preterm (before 32 weeks).
[back to top] More than a half million babies in the United States—that's 1 in every 8—are born premature each year.

About 11 percent of all pregnancies in the US deliver prematurely, and more than 450,000 pregnancies will be at risk for complications. Strictly speaking, most doctors define the age of viability as being about 24 weeks of gestation. In many hospitals, 24 weeks is the cutoff point for when doctors will use intensive medical intervention to attempt to save the life of a baby born prematurely. A baby born at 24 weeks would generally require a lot of intervention, potentially including mechanical ventilation and other invasive treatments followed by a lengthy stay in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

In the hands of experienced specialists, though, babies born slightly earlier may have a chance at survival. Babies born at 23 weeks may survive with these specialists in a state-of-the-art NICU, but the odds of survival are much lower. The earliest baby to have ever survived premature birth was born at 21 weeks and 6 days, and this was reported in the news as having been a "miracle."

Odds of survival increase as the pregnancy progresses, and even an extra week in the womb can make a difference. In general, premature babies born closer to 37 weeks will be much better off than those born before 28 weeks.

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Odds of a Premature Baby's Survival by Length of Pregnancy

  • Length of Pregnancy Likelihood of Survival
  • 23 weeks 17%
  • 24 weeks 29%
  • 25 weeks 50%
  • 26 weeks 80%
  • 27 weeks 90%
  • 28-31 weeks 90%-95%
  • 32-33 weeks 95%
  • 34 + weeks Almost as likely as a full-term baby
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Levels of Neonatal Intensive Care Units

The levels of care are used as a method of designating the care provided by hospitals for newborn infants. It is based according to the complexity of care provided, ranging from basic care or level one to the most complex care

Level I - Basic Neonatal Care The minimum required for any facility that provides inpatient maternity care. The hospital must have the necessary personnel and equipment to
  • Perform neonatal resuscitation
  • Evaluate healthy newborn infants
  • Provide postnatal care
  • Stabilize ill newborn infants until transfer to a facility that provides intensive care.
Level II - Specialty Care Nurseries In addition to providing all of the basic care listed above, Special Care Nurseries can
  • Provide care to infants who are moderately ill with problems that are expected to resolve rapidly
  • Provide care to infants who are recovering from serious illness treated in a level III (subspecialty) NICU.
Level III - Subspecialty NICU's Care for newborn infants with extreme prematurity or who are critically ill or require surgical intervention. Level IV - Regional Subspecialty NICU's (Level IV is a designation about the Level II, only found in a limited number of the states).The Level IV NICU's are often found in regional academic medical centers and can provide the most complex level of neonatal care including
  • Advance diagnoses
  • Treatment of fetuses, preemies and newborns with complicated conditions.
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NICU Infant Weights

An infant in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, has their weight measured on a daily basis. An infant or premature baby’s weight is an important number to know, as it can affect everything from diet and nutrition to medications.

Neonatologists and Pediatricians will carefully monitor an NICU infant’s weight to determine the best possible care plan. Many parents with babies in the NICU generally expect to see a weight in pounds. However, in the NICU, the common measurement used is actually in grams. Measuring in grams is a far more accurate way to determine feedings, nutrition, and medications.

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Low Birth Weight Classifications

When parents ask about their NICU infant’s weight, they can use the following pounds to grams translation:

  • 1 pound is equal to 454 grams
  • 1 ounce is equal to 28 grams

If a baby is born with a low birth weight, it is possible the infant will be admitted to the NICU. Low infant birth weights can be classified as:

  • Low Birth Weight (LBW) – Less than 2500 grams, or 5 lb 8 oz
  • Very Low Birth Weight (VLBW) – Less than 1500 grams, or 3 lb 5 oz
  • Extremely Low Birth Weight (ELBW) – Less than 1000 grams, or 2 lb 3 oz
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