Reducing the incidence of premature birth in Louisiana is a goal of the Louisiana Department of Health and one in which improvements are being made. In just three years, the rate of preterm birth has been reduced from 15.1 percent to 12.3 percent. In spite of this improvement, communities in Louisiana still have some of the highest rates of preterm birth in the country.

This news is reflected in the most recent report by the March of Dimes that gives the state a grade of “F” in its 2016 Premature Birth Report Card. For comparison purposes, the national grade given by the March of Dimes in a “C.”

Preventing preterm birth remains a challenge because the causes are numerous, complex and not always well understood. Risk factors for preterm birth include:

  • Becoming pregnant soon after another pregnancy (i.e. pregnancy spacing). Recommendations are to wait at least 18 months before getting pregnant again. For more information, visit
  • One of the greatest risk factors for having a preterm birth is having had a prior preterm birth.
  • Mothers with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • Infections that occur during pregnancy, including sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis and chlamydia increase the risk of preterm birth.

Although some of these risk factors for a preterm birth have no known intervention, there is a treatment, 17a-Hydroxyprogesterone caproate, or 17P, which can reduce the risk of another preterm birth by 33 percent in women who have had a previous preterm birth. The Louisiana Medicaid program covers this treatment which is administered by weekly injections. Dr. SreyRam Kuy, Louisiana Medicaid chief medical officer noted, “Over the past three years, Louisiana Medicaid has been able to double the rates of 17-P administration among high risk women through collaboration with our managed care organizations and innovative strategies incorporating pay for performance. The adoption by providers of 17-P is one small step towards improving birth outcomes.”

Dr. Rebekah Gee, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and an obstetrician, says improving health before and between pregnancies is an important strategy to reduce maternal risk factors for preterm birth.

“We encourage women who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant to take several important steps to help reduce their risk of preterm birth,” Gee said. “They include quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol and getting help for a substance abuse, getting prenatal care as early as possible in your pregnancy and seeking medical attention if you have symptoms of preterm labor.”

Gee added that with Medicaid expansion, more low-income woman are now eligible for health care coverage that can improve health and decrease the chances of a preterm birth.

“Enrolling in Medicaid means that women can get the primary care that can address chronic conditions. The result will be better health before pregnancy, which will improve the chance of a successful, full-term birth,” she added.

Other strategies underway in Louisiana to reduce pre-term births include interventions with some mothers-to-be, prenatal education and care, increased access to reproductive health services, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and smoking cessation programs targeted to those of child-bearing age.  

Gee added that continued progress will require broad-based support from many people and organizations. “We certainly look to our OB/GYNs to lead the effort, but we need support from other health care insurers and community organizations that assist families and new mothers.”

The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state residents. To learn more about LDH, visit For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's Twitter account and Facebook.