(NEW YORK) -- Preterm births in the U.S. dropped for a fifth consecutive year in 2011, marking the lowest rate in a decade, according to the March of Dimes.
The non-profit organization's annual Premature Birth Report Card found that the preterm birth rate went down to 11.7 percent last year, down from its peak in 2006 of 12.8 percent.
"In 2010, about 64,000 fewer babies were born preterm than in 2006, which was the peak year for pre-term births. So this is decreasing health care and social costs but most importantly, it's giving 64,000 babies a better start," March of Dimes Medical Director Dr. Ed McCabe told ABC News Radio.
The report reflects that more expectant mothers are taking better care of themselves with improved diets and visits to doctors, he said.
“A woman needs to get a pre-conception checkup before getting pregnant. She needs to go to all of her pre-natal care appointments even when she's feeling fine,” Dr. McCabe advised.
Taking these steps to lower premature births will also result in lower health care costs.
“It's estimated that the improvement in preterm birth rate represents a potential savings of about $3 billion -- billion with a 'b' -- in health care and economic costs to society,” he said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio