A new report shows Kentucky continues to make strides in reducing the number of babies born premature.
Just over 12 percent of babies in the state last year were born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, which was an improvement for the 7th year in a row. The commonwealth received a 'C' on the latest March of Dime Report Card.
"Not many years ago, we had an 'F,' so we have improved significantly, said Katrina Smith with the Kentucky March of Dimes Chapter.
Smith credits the improvement to better education by health departments, hospitals, and other health care providers. Still, reducing premature births is still a challenge in Kentucky. Smith told WKU Public Radio too many women smoke while pregnant.
"The CDC has identified smoking in pregnancy as one of the main things to avoid to prevent a preterm birth," explained Smith. "We do have significantly higher rates of pregnant women who smoke in Kentucky, and that's one of the things we're working on."
Babies who survive an early birth can face a lifetime of health challenges. Even babies born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants.