EL PASO, Texas -

The March of Dimes released new findings showing that there were fewer premature births last year than the year before, making 2011 the year with the lowest preterm birth rate in a decade.

The release of the improving statistics coincides with November's Prematurity Awareness Month campaigns.

But doctors still consider preterm birth a big problem in the U.S. and in El Paso, where one in eight babies is born early.

About 11.7 percent of American babies, or half a million, are being born before 37 weeks.

"Babies who are born prematurely are being asked to perform biological functions that they're not quite ready to do yet," said Dr. John Harvey, a neonatologist at Sierra Providence East Medical Center in far east El Paso.

"There's a reason that Mother Nature designed that bun to stay in the oven for 38 to 40 weeks. And that's because the organ systems of the baby are still maturing."

Harvey told ABC-7 that 40 percent of the time, doctors can pinpoint why a baby was born early.

"The rest of the time, 50 to 60 percent of the time, we don't know why babies are delivered prematurely," he continued.

"Something happens in the womb that makes it a not-so-friendly place for the baby."

In Annissa Pellicano's case, she just felt something wasn't right.

"It was after I got to the hospital that I found out something was wrong, because they had to do an ultrasound to find something was wrong," Annissa said.

It turns out Annissa was going into early labor for unknown reasons.

Ten days later, on Sept. 14, she gave birth to her daughter, Cataleya.

Little Cataleya was 25 weeks old, and weighed just more than a pound and a half.

"Terror. It's that fear that you're going to lose your child," Annissa said, describing her emotions before and after her sudden delivery.

"It's not, you know, you can't get past that. It's scary."

Cataleya was due just after Christmas and may end up staying in the hospital until then.

Even though she's a mom earlier than planned, Annissa's focus isn't on what caused her to deliver early. It's just on making sure she takes home a healthy baby.

"She is the best thing that happened to us and I wouldn't trade it for the world," Annissa said, gazing adoringly at her tiny daughter, nestled in her arms.

Since doctors can't determine which babies will be born early, or even why it happens sometimes, they urge expectant mothers to adhere to a healthy diet and lifestyle, and to take prenatal vitamins and visit their doctor on a regular basis.