June 20, 2012
Premature birth can cause serious problems for a baby. It can even lead to death. But if you are pregnant, you can take steps to lower your risk. By reducing your chances of premature birth, you increase the chances for a healthy baby.
What is premature birth?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, cdc.gov, offers tips to reduce premature birth. A birth is considered premature, or preterm, if it occurs at least three weeks before a baby's due date. Usually, a full-term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks.
Important growth and development occurs throughout pregnancy. This growth happens through the final months and weeks. Most babies born a few weeks early do well and have no health problems. However, some premature babies do have more health problems than full-term babies.
For example, a baby born at 35 weeks is more likely to have:
Most preterm deliveries happen without a known cause. Doctors can decide to deliver a baby early. Sometimes it is because of concern for the health of the mother. Sometimes there are health concerns for the baby.
Health problems can be more severe the earlier a preterm baby is born. Babies born extremely preterm make up only a small percent of all births. Yet preterm delivery is the most frequent cause of infant deaths.
Some premature babies require special care. They can spend weeks or months in the hospital. Those who survive may face lifelong problems such as:
The CDC reports that in most cases, preterm labor begins unexpectedly. The warning signs are:
Even if a woman does everything "right" during pregnancy, she can have a premature baby. There are some known risk factors for premature birth.
The known risk factors are:
What to do in case of premature labor
If you think you are showing signs of premature labor, call your doctor right away. It is natural to be a little nervous during this time. But by taking the following steps, you can help prevent premature labor:
If symptoms worsen or don't disappear after one hour, call your doctor again or go to the hospital. When you call your doctor, say you are concerned that you might have started premature labor.
Can you prevent premature birth?
USNews.com reports there is no way to guarantee a full-term birth. But pregnant women can take certain steps to increase their odds.
Don't smoke. Smoking by pregnant women may result in fetal injury, premature birth, and low birth weight. It doesn't help to just cut back on smoking. Recent research suggests you have to go cold turkey. The same goes for cigars, hookah pipes, and other smoking-related activities.
Consider getting progesterone shots if you've had a previous preterm birth. Weekly progesterone injections, administered from week 16 through week 34, can help delay early labor. The trick is identifying women most at risk before they actually go into labor. Women who have already given birth to a premature baby are at greater risk. So are those women who were premature babies themselves.
Decrease activity if your doctor tells you to. Fewer doctors are suggesting bed rest for pregnant women with any kind of problem. But they might suggest reducing activity if a woman's cervix is short. Or they may suggest rest if a woman has begun to dilate early. The jury is still out over whether this can stop premature labor. But bed rest probably can't hurt.
Eat a healthy diet and get a moderate amount of exercise. Eating right and exercising can help reduce the likelihood of developing pregnancy-related problems.