November 17, 2015: November is National Prematurity Awareness Month and today is World Prematurity Day. Learn more about premature birth, risk factors, and what you can do.
What is Premature Birth?
Premature (also known as preterm) birth refers to when a baby is born too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Important growth and development occur throughout pregnancy—especially in the final months and weeks. Premature birth is a concern because babies born too soon miss out on this valuable time to grow and develop.
Premature birth is the biggest contributor for infant death, with most preterm-related deaths occurring among babies who were born very preterm (before 32 weeks). Babies who survive may spend weeks or months hospitalized in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and may face lifelong problems such as—
- Intellectual disabilities
- Cerebral palsy
- Breathing and respiratory problems
- Visual problems including retinopathy of prematurity
- Hearing loss
- Feeding and digestive problems
Premature Birth in the United States
In 2014, the premature birth rate in the United States was about 9.6%. The percentage of premature births in the United States has decreased 8% since 2007; however, large differences in risk of preterm birth remain for racial and ethnic groups. In 2014, black infants were about 50% more likely to be born preterm than white, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander infants. Reasons for this difference are an area of intense research.
Even if a woman does everything “right” during pregnancy, she still can have a premature baby. Some things (called risk factors) can increase the chance that a woman will have a premature baby. There are several risk factors for premature birth, including ones that researchers have not yet identified.
In addition to race/ethnicity, some of the risk factors for preterm birth are—
- Previous preterm birth
- Being pregnant with more than one baby (twins, triplets, or more)
- Problems with the uterus or cervix
- Chronic health problems in the mother, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and clotting disorders
- Certain infections during pregnancy
- Cigarette smoking, alcohol use, or illegal drug use during pregnancy
- Pregnant woman
- Although most black women give birth at term, on average, black women are about 50% more likely to have a premature baby compared to white women.
Premature Birth: What to Know
Doctors sometimes need to deliver a baby early because of concerns for the health of the mother or the baby. An early delivery should only be considered when there is a medical reason to do so. If a pregnant woman is healthy and the pregnancy is progressing well, it is best to let the baby come on his or her own time.
Although most babies born just a few weeks early do well and have no health issues, some do have more health problems than full term babies. For example, a baby born at 35 weeks is more likely to have—
- Jaundice (skin and whites of eyes look yellow) because his or her liver may not be fully developed
- Breathing and respiratory problems
- A longer hospital stay
What Can I Do?
There are things that women can do to improve their health, lower the risk of having a premature baby, and help their baby be healthy. These include—
- Quit smoking. For help in quitting, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visit Tobacco Use and Pregnancy
- Avoid alcohol and illicit drugs
- Schedule an appointment with Sun Pediatrics for a medical checkup before pregnancy. Get prenatal care as soon as you think you may be pregnant, and throughout your pregnancy
Talk to Sun Pediatrics about—
- How to best control diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes
- A healthy diet and prenatal vitamins. It is important to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily before and during early pregnancy
- Concerns about pregnancy and any warning signs or symptoms of preterm labor that will need medical attention
- The use of a progesterone medication (17-alpha hydroxyprogesterone caproate, or 17P) if you had a previous preterm birth
- Breastfeeding. Breast milk is the best food for babies, whether they are born early or at term
Visit Sun Pediatrics in Marietta for More Information
Have more questions about premature babies or premature baby awareness month? Ask Dr. Hari of Sun Pediatrics. Dr. Hari is highly recommended by parents of Marietta, Smyrna and Cobb County. Sun is your baby specialist in Marietta GA.