Health Fact Sheets
Preterm live births in Canada, 2000 to 2013

Release date: October 26, 2016

Studies have shown that babies born preterm are at a higher risk of various medical problems such as respiratory distress syndrome, chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disorder, asthma, hearing and vision loss than are babies born during the normal gestation periodNote 1Note 2Note 3 In 2013 there were 380,323 births in Canada, of which 29,716 (7.8%) were preterm births.Note 4 The proportion of all births represented by preterm births remained fairly constant throughout the period 2000 to 2013, ranging from 7.3% in 2001 to 8.0% in 2008.

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About preterm live births

Preterm births are defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as babies born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed.Note 5 A normal gestation period would be 37 to 41 weeks.

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More male preterm births than female preterm

In 2013, 8.3% of all male births were preterm births, compared to 7.3% for females (Chart 1). During the period 2000 to 2013, the preterm birth share of all male births ranged from 7.7% in 2001 to 8.4% in 2004 and 2008. In comparison, the female preterm birth share of all female births ranged from 6.9% in 2001 to 7.5% in 2004, 2006, and 2008.

Chart 1

Data table for Chart 1
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Both sexes, Males and Females, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year Both sexes Males Females
percent
2000 7.5 8.0 7.0
2001 7.3 7.7 6.9
2002 7.5 7.9 7.0
2003 7.7 8.0 7.3
2004 7.9 8.4 7.5
2005 7.8 8.2 7.3
2006 7.9 8.3 7.5
2007 7.8 8.1 7.4
2008 8.0 8.4 7.5
2009 7.7 8.1 7.3
2010 7.8 8.2 7.3
2011 7.6 8.0 7.1
2012 7.8 8.3 7.3
2013 7.8 8.3 7.3

More than half of multiple births are preterm births

In 2013, only 6.2% of all single births were preterm births, compared to over one-half (55.6%) of multiple live births (twins, triplets, etc.) (Chart 2). Among single births, the preterm birth share of all births fluctuated between 6.0% and 6.4% during the years 2000 to 2013. The preterm birth share of all multiple births ranged from 53.3% to 57.1% over the same period.

Chart 2

Data table for Chart 2
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), All live births, Single births and Multiple births, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year All live births Single births Multiple births
percent
2000 7.5 6.2 53.4
2001 7.3 6.0 53.3
2002 7.5 6.0 55.2
2003 7.7 6.2 54.6
2004 7.9 6.4 56.8
2005 7.8 6.3 55.2
2006 7.9 6.4 55.6
2007 7.8 6.2 55.2
2008 8.0 6.4 57.1
2009 7.7 6.1 54.4
2010 7.8 6.2 54.7
2011 7.6 6.0 54.7
2012 7.8 6.2 55.1
2013 7.8 6.2 55.6

Preterm births by province or territory

In terms of births within provinces and territories, 12.6% of all Nunavut’s births were preterm births during the period 2000 to 2013, followed by Alberta (8.6%), Newfoundland and Labrador (8.3%), and Yukon (8.1%) (Chart 3). Conversely, Prince Edward Island had the lowest preterm birth rate during this period (7.1%), followed by British Columbia (7.4%), and Quebec (7.4%).

Chart 3

Data table for Chart 3
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3. The information is grouped by Province and Territories (appearing as row headers), Percent (appearing as column headers).
Province and Territories Percent
Prince Edward Island 7.1
British Columbia 7.4
Quebec 7.4
Saskatchewan 7.5
New Brunswick 7.6
Ontario 7.7
Nova Scotia 7.7
Northwest Territories 7.7
Manitoba 7.9
Yukon 8.1
Newfoundland and Labrador 8.3
Alberta 8.6
Nunavut 12.6
Canada 7.7

Preterm births most prevalent among mothers aged 35 to 49 years

Throughout the years 2000 to 2013, preterm births accounted for the highest proportion of births among mothers aged 35 to 49 years, followed by mothers younger than 20 years of age and then mothers aged 20 to 34 years (Chart 4). In 2013, 9.4% of the births born to mothers aged 35 to 49 years of age were preterm births, compared to 8.3% for mothers younger than 20 years of age and 7.4% for mothers aged 20 to 34 years.

Chart 4

Data table for Chart 4
Data table for Chart 4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Under 20 years, 20 to 34 years and 35 to 49 years, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year Under 20 years 20 to 34 years 35 to 49 years
percent
2000 8.4 7.2 8.8
2001 8.4 7.0 8.4
2002 8.0 7.2 8.6
2003 8.4 7.4 8.9
2004 8.6 7.6 9.3
2005 8.6 7.5 8.9
2006 8.4 7.6 9.1
2007 8.0 7.4 9.2
2008 8.3 7.6 9.3
2009 7.4 7.3 9.4
2010 8.0 7.4 9.4
2011 7.8 7.2 9.1
2012 7.9 7.4 9.3
2013 8.3 7.4 9.4

Second-order births least likely to be preterm births

Parity refers to the number of live births a female has had to date. During the period 2000 to 2013, first-order births (first born) and third- or higher-order births had a higher percentage of preterm births than second-order births (Chart 5).Note 6 In 2013, 9.0% of the third- or higher-order births were preterm births, compared to 7.5% for first-order births and 7.4% for second-order births. While the preterm birth share of first-order and second-order births remained fairly stable since the year 2000, the preterm birth share among third or higher order births increased from 8.0% in 2000 to 9.0% in 2013.

Chart 5

Data table for Chart 5
Data table for Chart 5
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 5. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), First birth, Second birth and Third or higher birth order, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year First birth Second birth Third or higher birth order
percent
2000 7.9 6.7 8.0
2001 7.6 6.5 8.1
2002 7.6 6.8 8.3
2003 7.9 6.9 8.5
2004 8.0 7.2 9.1
2005 7.9 7.1 8.8
2006 8.0 7.2 9.2
2007 7.7 7.1 9.0
2008 8.0 7.3 9.1
2009 7.5 7.2 9.0
2010 7.7 7.2 8.9
2011 7.5 6.9 8.9
2012 8.0 6.9 9.0
2013 7.5 7.4 9.0

Data

Additional data on Canadian births and characteristics of mothers are available in CANSIM tables 102-4501 to 102-4513.

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