It surprised us to discover that 1 in every 8 babies born in the United States each year is born prematurely. A premature birth is classified as a birth that takes place at least three weeks before a baby’s due date. It is also known as preterm birth (or less than 37 weeks, as a full term pregnancy is 40 weeks long). Important growth and development of the baby takes place throughout pregnancy and especially in the final months and weeks.
November has been designated as “Prematurity Awareness Month,” in an effort to educate the public about the risk factors for premature birth and about preventive measures that pregnant women can take to decrease their risk of delivering prematurely.
The earlier a baby is born, the more severe his or her health problems are likely to be. More infants die from preterm-related problems than from any other single cause. Some premature babies require special care and spend weeks or months hospitalized in a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). Those who survive may face lifelong problems such as:
- Cerebral Palsy
- Intellectual Disabilities
- Breathing and Respiratory problems
- Visual problems
- Hearing loss
- Feeding and digestive problems
Even if a woman does everything “right” during pregnancy, she can still have a premature baby. Here are some known risk factors for having a premature baby:
- Having had a previous preterm birth
- Carrying more than one baby (twins, triplets, etc.)
- Problems with the uterus or cervix
- Chronic health problems with the mother
- Cigarette smoking
- Certain infections during pregnancy
What can you do to prevent a premature birth? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest the following to reduce the risk of premature birth:
- Quit smoking, and avoid alcohol or drugs.
- Get prenatal care as soon as you think you may be pregnant and throughout your pregnancy.
- Talk to your health care provider about how to best control high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Talk to your health care provider about maintaining a healthy diet, including 400 micrograms of folic acid daily before and during early pregnancy.
- Talk to your health care provider about your options if you have previously had a preterm birth.
Warning Signs of Preterm Labor:
In most cases, preterm labor begins unexpectedly and with no known cause. It’s important to seek care if you think you might be having preterm labor, because your doctor may be able to help you and your baby.
The warning signs are –
- Contractions (every 10 minutes or more often)
- Change in vaginal discharge (leaking fluid or bleeding from the vagina)
- Pelvic pressure (the feeling that the baby is pushing down)
- Low, dull backache
- Cramps that feel like a menstrual period
- Abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea