(Raleigh, NC) -- The U.S. preterm birth rate dropped for the fifth consecutive year in 2011 to 11.7 percent, the lowest in a decade.
North Carolina earned a "C" on the March of Dimes 2012 Premature Birth Report Card.
Four states - Vermont, Oregon, New Hampshire, and Maine earned an "A".
"These results demonstrate that many premature births can be prevented with the right policies and bold leadership," said March of Dimes President Dr. Jennifer L. Howse."
The improvements indicate healthier babies and a potential savings of roughly $3 billion in health care and economic costs to society, according to Dr. Howse.
The Report Card also gauges states' progress toward lowering their preterm birth rates by tracking contributing factors.
--7 states and the District of Columbia reduced the percentage of uninsured women of childbearing age;
--43 states the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico lowered the late preterm birth rate, infants born between 34 and 36 weeks gestation.