SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -

Across the globe, people are recognizing premature births during World Prematurity Day. According to the March of Dimes, it's the leading cause of death among children under the age of five and premature births have risen for the first time in eight years. However, steps are being taken to save more.

For 135 days, Ashley Opheim and Taylor Reynolds of Orange City watched over their girls in the NICU at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls. Their twins, Lillian and Meredith, were due on July 27. While multiples are prone to premature birth, they came really early.
    
"They were born 25 weeks gestation, on April 17, so about 15 weeks before their original due date," said Opheim.

Meredith (on the right) weighed just under 2 pounds and Lillian (on the left) just 1 pound 8 ounces. The twins, who just had surgery to fix cleft lips, battled through a lot of other health problems that came with being premature including lung, intestine and kidney problems as well as complications that came with feeding tubes.

"Part of it, you almost feel numb sometimes, because there's always just something happening. In the NICU, you go two steps forward and ten steps back, and you just take it day by day" said Opheim.

Dr. Michael McNamara specializes in Fetal Medicine. He says sometimes there's nothing they can do to prevent premature births.

McNamara said, "Certainly when I first started training, it was unlikely we would even try to resuscitate a baby that was less than 26 weeks and now we are looking at the grey zone being 23 weeks, 24 weeks."

The premature rate has risen slightly in the U.S., but McNamara says numbers aren't alarming and he attributes that to advances in medicine.

"We do have different measures with antenatal steroids, magnesium sulfate for neuro-protection that actually give the babies a much better chance once they get to the NICU," McNamara said.
    
And more and more, he gets to watch parents like Ashley and Taylor go home with healthier babies.. Meredith now weighs about 12 pounds and Lillian 9.5.

"If you looked at them now and compared it to where they were before the babies were born, they're different people completely," said McNamara.

Each year, the March of Dimes gives grades based on percentage rates of premature babies. The United States was given an average score while South Dakota and Minnehaha County were both given a B.

While the nation's premature birth rate rose in 2015, it increased less than a percentage point. The percentage of premature babies is just over 9.6 percent. The March of Dimes has a goal of reaching 8.1 percent by 2020.