The March of Dimes on Tuesday issued a grade of F to Louisiana for having too many premature births.

The three factors measured on the March of Dimes 2012 Premature Birth Report Card are: smoking among women of childbearing age, uninsured women and late premature births, meaning births between 34 and 36 weeks, according to a March of Dimes news release.

Premature birth is a birth occurring before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Full-term birth is defined as a pregnancy lasting 39 to 41 weeks.

The F grade is based on how close Louisiana is to a goal set by the March of Dimes of less than 10 premature births in 100 deliveries, or about 10 percent, a rate it hopes to achieve by the year 2020. The report card includes data from the National Center for Health Statistics showing Louisiana’s premature birth rate is 15.6 percent.

Louisiana March of Dimes Chapter State Director Frankie Robertson said in a news release that the group is leading efforts to improve the grade by advocating for increased access to prenatal health care, by increasing education about why the last weeks of pregnancy are so important to a baby’s health, and by forming partnerships with Louisiana health care leaders, including the state Department of Health and Hospitals.

“We are thrilled to be working in partnership with DHH secretary Bruce Greenstein, his team and the Louisiana Hospital Association,” Robertson said. “The work we have already started will, in the long run, improve the health of Louisiana’s newborns.”

March of Dimes and its partners are addressing the report card recommendations.

Birthing hospitals in the Louisiana Health Association say they will continue to avoid elective deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy unless medically necessary.

DHH has renewed it commitment to its LA-Moms program to help more pregnant women qualify for Medicaid coverage, and March of Dimes will continue to advocate for coverage of smoking cessation programs for pregnant women.

“We were the first state to accept the March of Dimes’ challenge to reduce premature births 8 percent by 2014, and we continue our aggressive work through programs like our Louisiana Birth Outcomes Initiative to give babies a better chance at living a longer, healthier life from the start,” Greenstein said in the release.

Robertson said the March of Dimes is working to reduce Louisiana premature births by at least 8 percent between 2009 and 2014.