Although most expecting parents are eager for their baby’s arrival, they’re not so eager as to want the big day to come too soon! Unfortunately, preterm births – defined by the March of Dimes as births that happen before 37 weeks of pregnancy – are all too common. The March of Dimes anticipates about 380,000 babies in the United States will be born too soon.
Preemies often face life-long health issues like lung disease, vision and hearing loss, and developmental disabilities. Premature birth is the leading cause of death in children ages 5 and younger around the world.
According to Dr. Mamata Narendran of Obstetrics & Gynecology Associates in Fairfield and Liberty Township, the cause behind over one-third of preterm births is unknown. However, she does point to some known risk factors, including:
- A maternal age of less than 20 or older than 40 years
- Poor nutrition
- Lower socioeconomic status
- Use of tobacco, alcohol or drugs
- History of preterm delivery
- Pregnancies with more than one fetus (twins or triplets)
- Problems with shape of uterus
- A weak cervix
- Infections in the genital tract
- Bleeding in pregnancy
- Recent delivery (less than a year)
- Limited prenatal care
“Certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes can also lead to premature delivery,” she says.
What to Do?
What can you do when your doctor tells you that your baby might come early?
See your doctor before conception for an assessment, says Narendran, adding to also make healthy lifestyle choices. “Once you are pregnant, establish prenatal care as soon as possible, follow recommendations, keep moving, remain stress free. Educate yourself about symptoms of preterm labor such as contractions or cramps, pressure in the pelvis, mucus like vaginal discharge with or without blood. In short, ‘listen to your body’ and call your doctor if you are concerned. Your doctor might recommend certain additional interventions depending on your situation such as weekly progesterone injections, baby aspirin, limiting weight gain or bed rest.”
“When your bundle of joy arrives earlier than planned, it is normal to worry, and feel overwhelmed and underprepared,” says Narendran. But there are steps you can take to help you get ready. Narendran suggests start pumping breast milk as soon as you can if you intend to breastfeed, make sure your car seat is appropriate for a preemie, and find a pediatrician who is familiar with the unique needs of a premature baby. Minimizing allergens, light and noise, and keeping your baby warm will help him adapt to his new home. “Most importantly,” adds Narendran, “adjust your expectations, relax, and enjoy the baby.”
Recently, a DNA study coordinated by Dr. Louis Muglia of the Perinatal Institute at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the March of Dimes Premature Research Center-Ohio Collaborative along with a global team of researchers found several gene regions that influence a pregnancy’s length, which may result in learning new ways to help prevent preterm birth. The study, which analyzed information from over 50,000 women, will serve as the foundation for future research on developing diagnostic tests, medications, and even dietary supplements. Learn more about the study at marchofdimes.org.
The March of Dimes’ World Prematurity Day is Nov. 17, and aims to raise awareness on the effects of premature birth, both on babies and their families. Head to marchofdimes.org to learn about actions you can take to help spread the message.