LAS VEGAS -- Being born premature is one of the main causes of death for newborns in this country, according to the March of Dimes.
In Nevada, more than one in every eight babies are born prematurely, the nonprofit said. The group also gave the state a "D" grade on its premature birth report card, which it released Friday.
The state has lowered its preterm birth rate since the last report, slightly to 13 percent from 13.2 percent.
It is an improvement but still far short of the March of Dimes' goal.
Doctors say there are two main reasons why Nevada has more women giving birth prematurely than in most other states.
"The downturn in the economy has been bad for patients getting insured. We have a very high teen pregnancy rate and teen pregnancies tend to get much later prenatal care," director of High-Risk Pregnancy Center Dr. Stephen Wold said.
In Nevada, nearly 30 percent of women are uninsured.
The second main reason is the number of women who smoke. About 15 percent of women in Nevada smoke, which is above the national average.
However, in almost half of premature births the cause is unknown.
Laura Ritz falls into that category. She gave birth to her twins early.
"They're taking us through the NICU to show us what our babies are going to look like if they're born and the health complications because they're preparing you. It is one of the scariest things you can ever deal with," Ritz said.
The hardest part for Ritz was not when nurses rushed her babies to the NICU or even when she was told she couldn't hold them for days. She says it was when she was ready to leave the hospital and her twins were not.
"I had to walk out the doors without my babies and that was very hard to do as a mom," Ritz said.
Ritz's experience inspired her to volunteer with the March of Dimes.
Overall, the March of Dimes says the rate of premature births in the United States has dropped to a new 15-year low of 11.5 percent. The group says the U.S. still has the highest rate of preterm birth of any industrialized country.
Babies born prematurely face a number of short-term health risks, including breathing problems, brain bleeding, difficulty controlling body temperature and an increased risk of infection because of a weakened immune system.
Long-term health risk include: cerebral palsy, behavioral and psychological problems.
"Each life we can have an impact on is very significant, but we need to do better. We need to do better," the state director of the March of Dimes Phil Kalsman said.
Experts say they do not know what impact the Affordable Care Act will have on how many women will become insured and gain access to prenatal care, but they are hopeful.