According to the most recent estimates, preterm birth is a leading cause of under-5 mortality, claiming nearly 1 million lives every year.
The World Health Organization defines preterm birth as babies born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed. While many preterms survive in high-income countries, in low- and middle-income countries a lack of adequate newborn care puts the lives of many preterm babies at risk.
number of babies born prematurely every year
percentage of babies born prematurely worldwide
percentage of preterm births that occur in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia
All data on this page represents the most recent data available. Please visit our Newborn Numbers page and download the Excel spreadsheet to explore the data further.
Preventing preterm birth
Although we still do not have a full understanding of the causes of preterm birth, several interventions may reduce the risk of a woman delivering early, including high-quality antenatal care; good nutrition; screening and management of maternal infections, diabetes, and hypertension; smoking cessation; family planning; and prenatal care for adolescents. If a woman presents in preterm labor, administration of antenatal corticosteroids may reduce mortality from respiratory distress, and antibiotics can reduce a baby’s risk for infection.
- Joint Statement: International WHO Recommendations on Interventions to Improve Preterm Birth Outcomes
- National, regional, and worldwide estimates of low birthweight in 2015, with trends from 2000: a systematic analysis
- Low birthweight: will new estimates accelerate progress?
- Nurturing care for small and sick newborns: Evidence review and country case studies
- Safe and effective human milk feeding for small and sick newborns
- Preterm birth–associated neurodevelopmental impairment estimates at regional and global levels for 2010
- Born too soon
- Latest global, regional and national estimates of levels of preterm birth
- Lancet preterm birth series
- Every Newborn Action Plan
- WHO preterm birth guidelines