The March of Dimes says Georgia ranks 45th nationwide for its high number of perterm births.

The March of Dimes says Georgia ranks 45th nationwide for its high number of perterm births.

A new report shows the number of babies born early in Georgia is rising. The state already ranks near the bottom when it comes to maternal and infant healthcare.

The report from the March of Dimes gives Georgia an “F” with a preterm birth rate of 11.5%, meaning the state is close to having 12% of all babies born early and ranks 45th nationwide. Last year, Georgia’s rate was 11.4%. March of Dimes President and CEO Stacey Stewart said premature birth is the leading cause of death for children under 5. GPB's Ellen Eldridge reports.

The organization, which tracks maternal and infant health, wants the rate down to 8.1% by 2020. 

March of Dimes President and CEO Stacey Stewart said this is the third year in a row in which the state’s number of preterm births has gone up instead of down.

That’s a red flag not only for the health of our children but also the health of our economy, Stewart said, because, sometimes, the costs can go up into the million-dollar range if a baby has to stay in a neonatal intensive care unit for months on end.

Prematurity is the leading cause of death for children between the ages of zero and 5,” Stewart said. “And even babies that may not die as a result of preterm birth often are facing lifelong health challenges.”

Some of those challenges include cerebral palsy, intellectual delays or disabilities, physical disabilities and vision problems, Stewart said.

“I grew up in Georgia. A lot of times you'd hear family say, ‘Oh, the baby came a little bit early,’” Stewart said. “Well, when babies come a little bit early and when they're born too sick and too soon, it can have a devastating impact on their lives over the course of their lives.”

The average cost of a preterm birth in Georgia is $65,000.

She said it’s worth the investment it would take to expand Medicaid coverage for mothers past the 60 days post birth.

“One of the things that Georgia must do, it must adopt Medicaid expansion for all women covering their pregnancy and childbirth and covering their health care at least one year after pregnancy and childbirth,” Stewart said.

Georgia ranks near the bottom for maternal mortality and 37% of the state is considered in maternity care deserts because there is no access to prenatal care. Fifty-eight of the state’s 159 counties are without any obstetric providers or hospitals that offers obstetric care, according to recent data.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: 37 Percent Of Georgia Counties Considered 'Maternity Care Deserts'

“We need to make sure that there are health care providers, if not a hospital or an OBGYN then other prenatal health care providers like doulas and midwives,” Stewart said.

In addition to the poor grades of counties when it comes to preterm births, Stewart said the state is also failing communities of color.

In Georgia, the preterm birth rate among black women is 45% higher than the rate among all other women, the report shows.

“There's a lot that Georgia has not done,” she said. “And what we're seeing is because Georgia has failed to act this is producing worse outcomes as compared to almost all other states in the country, especially for women of color, especially for African American women, especially for women in rural areas as well.”