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Tenn. premature birth rate edges back up

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MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WMOT/TNNS)  --  After dropping for six years in a row, the number of babies delivered prematurely in Tennessee inched back up in 2013.

Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death. Babies who survive often face the risk of serious and sometimes lifelong health issues. Phil Toothman with the Tennessee March of Dimes says that's why every extra day in the womb is important.

"There's a lot of lung, heart and brain development that happens between 34 and 39 weeks that people just don't know about. So it's very important."

Last year Tennessee launched a campaign to encourage women to avoid inducing birth without a medical need. Toothman says that effort has proven successful.

"They would go and ask the doctor at 36, 37-weeks if they could go ahead and induce, and a lot of times, the doctors would say that it's okay. So we've pretty much put a stop to that in Tennessee."

Factors that may increase the risk of premature birth include smoking, some infections and some chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.