In the U.S., 1 in 10 births is premature. Full-term pregnancies last from 39 to 40 weeks. “Preterm labor” is when labor begins earlier than 37 weeks of pregnancy, and can lead to premature birth. A baby needs 40 weeks in the womb in order to fully develop. Until 39 weeks, the brain, lungs, ears, eyes, and liver are still growing. So, when a baby is born earlier than 37 weeks, there can be serious health concerns. Sleep apnea, heart problems, breathing problems, and mental retardation, to name a few, can occur at birth, and continue later in life. In order to shed light on how often premature birth occurs, why it does, and how to prevent it, November was named Prematurity
What Causes Preterm Birth
Premature birth can be caused by a number of different factors. Your risk factors are greater if you:
- Already had a premature baby
- Were a premature baby yourself
- Are pregnant with twins
- Are overweight or underweight
- Have uterus or cervix issues/abnormalities
- Have gum infections- Pregnant women are more susceptible to periodontal disease which gets into the bloodstream and to the fetus.
- Have uterine or vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis, STI’s, and UTI’s
- Get pregnant too soon after having a baby
- Have high blood pressure
- Are diabetic
- Have stress caused by a traumatic experience
- Are younger than 17 or older than 35. Women between these ages are considered to have a “high-risk” pregnancy.
How To Prevent Premature Birth
Even though there are risk factors that cannot be changed, there are ways that you can reduce your risk of early labor. You can take control by:
- Managing your weight– It is important to get to a healthy weight before pregnancy and gain a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy. Obese women are more likely to have preterm pregnancies. Talk to your doctor about how much weight is normal to gain, and where you should be weight-wise throughout your pregnancy.
- Having a Healthy Diet- When you are pregnant, it is extremely important to get all of your daily nutrients within your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce premature birth, which can be found in foods such as cooked salmon, eggs, and walnuts. Add foods that are high in vitamin C, such as broccoli, oranges, and Brussels sprouts, because vitamin C has also been shown to reduce premature birth risks.
Staying Hydrated– Drink water and stay hydrated. Dehydration can lead to premature contractions.
- Getting Checked– Make sure any health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and other issues are under control.
- Staying Active– Being active throughout your pregnancy will reduce your risk of conditions like preeclampsia and diabetes.
- Quitting Smoking– If it is hard to quit cold turkey, then nicotine replacement therapy can help. Although they aren’t the best option, it is better than smoking.
- Taking Prenatal Vitamins– Prenatal supplements will improve your odds of carrying full term. The folic acid in prenatals lower the risk of the placenta separating from the uterine wall and preeclampsia.
- Staying On Top Of Dental Care– Visit your dentist and make sure you are taking the proper measures to avoid gum disease. Brush and floss twice every day and see your dentist if you have any issues.
Experiencing contractions or period-like cramps could be signs of premature labor. Change in vaginal discharge and fluid leaking from your vagina, similar to your water breaking, are also warning signs. If you experience any of these before the 37 weeks, then go to the hospital immediately. You will be hooked up to a fetal monitor to make sure the baby is not in distress, and an ultrasound will be given. If the tests show it is not time to give birth, then you will go
home and possibly be on bed rest.
Babies born before 34 weeks will need to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for anywhere from days to months. If born between 34-37 weeks, there might be health conditions such as cerebral palsy or learning difficulties, but not necessarily.
In order to prevent premature birth, you have to stay on top of any health conditions you have, eat a healthy diet, and maintain a healthy weight throughout pregnancy. Get checked often, and make sure to stay on track for both you and your baby’s health. If at any point you have fluid leaking or contractions before 40 weeks, go to the hospital.