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March of Dimes

Kerry Klein / KVPR

A few weeks ago, we reported that the premature birth rate in the San Joaquin Valley is rising, and that it’s especially high in Fresno County. The numbers are concerning because premature babies are born with a higher risk of health complications like breathing difficulties, heart problems and chronic disease. Decades of work have proven preterm births are tough to prevent, but a new research initiative appears to be up for the challenge. This story begins, though, in a Fresno living room, where a mother and son enjoy some quiet time together.

Rebecca Plevin / Valley Public Radio

California has reduced its premature birth rate. The rate has dropped to 9.6 percent, earning the state an A on the March of Dimes annual report card for the first time.

"But unfortunately in the Central Valley, we’re still at a grade of C, although we’re trending downward on pre-term birth rates, as the state is," Gail Newel, director of the Fresno County Department of Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health, said at a press conference this morning.