With nearly 20 percent of infants born before 37 weeks, Puerto Rico has the highest pre-term birth rate in the United States and one of the highest in the world.
Poverty in Puerto Rico, which has half the per capita income of the poorest U.S. state, can be a factor. Also, 48 percent of the island’s births are performed by Cesarean section, compared with 32 percent on the U.S. mainland. In some cases doctors opt to deliver babies by C-section before they reach term in hopes of avoiding complications. [Emphasis mine]
But researchers say that’s not enough to explain why the island’s pre-term birth rate has jumped more than 50 percent over the last two decades.
The National Institutes of Health last month awarded $9.9 million for a team of university researchers to study whether contaminants in Puerto Rico’s groundwater are contributing to the problem.