November 17Th, Premature birth awareness day
This was taken from the March of Dimes website feel free to visit it to receive more information on premature births, babies, and signs of preterm labor.
Most pregnancies last around 40 weeks. Babies born between 37 and 42 completed weeks of pregnancy are called full term. Babies born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy are called premature. In the United States, about 12.8 percent of babies (more than half a million a year) are born prematurely (1). The rate of premature birth has increased by 36 percent since the early 1980s (1).
Premature birth is a serious health problem. Premature babies are at increased risk for newborn health complications, such as breathing problems, and even death. Most premature babies require care in a newborn intensive care unit (NICU), which has specialized medical staff and equipment that can deal with the multiple problems faced by premature infants.
Premature babies also face an increased risk of lasting disabilities, such as mental retardation, learning and behavioral problems, cerebral palsy, lung problems and vision and hearing loss. Two recent studies suggest that premature babies may be at increased risk of symptoms associated with autism (social, behavioral and speech problems) (2, 3). Studies also suggest that babies born very prematurely may be at increased risk of certain adult health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease (4).
When are most premature babies born?
More than 70 percent of premature babies are born between 34 and 36 weeks gestation (1). These are called late-preterm births. Late-preterm babies account for most of the increase in the premature birth rate in this country. A 2008 study found that cesarean sections (c-sections) account for nearly all of the increase in U.S. singleton premature births, and this group had the largest increase in c-section deliveries (5).
About 12 percent of premature babies are born between 32 and 33 weeks gestation, about 10 percent between 28 and 31 weeks, and about 6 percent at less than 28 weeks gestation (1).
All premature babies are at risk for health problems, but the earlier a baby is born, the greater the risk for serious complications. Babies born before about 32 weeks gestation usually are very small, and their organs are less developed than those of babies born later. Fortunately, advances in obstetrics and neonatology (the branch of pediatrics that deals with newborns) have improved the chances of survival for even the smallest babies.
What causes premature birth?
Most premature births are caused by spontaneous preterm labor, either by itself or following spontaneous premature rupture of the membranes (PROM). With PROM, the sac inside the uterus that holds the baby breaks too soon. Preterm labor is labor that begins before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. The causes of preterm labor and PROM are not fully understood.
The latest research suggests that many cases are triggered by the body’s natural response to certain infections, including those involving amniotic fluid and fetal membranes. However, in about half of all cases of premature birth, providers cannot determine why a woman delivered prematurely.
About 25 percent of premature births are caused by early induction of labor or c-section due to pregnancy complications or health problems in the mother or the fetus (6). In many of these cases, early delivery is probably the safest approach for mother and baby.
However, the March of Dimes is concerned that some early deliveries may occur without good medical justification or may be done at the request of the mother. In some cases, this can lead to late-preterm birth, with potential risks to the baby. Women should wait until at least 39 weeks to schedule an induced labor or a c-section, unless there are medical problems that make it necessary to deliver earlier (7, 8).
Which women are at increased risk for premature birth?
Any woman can give birth prematurely, but some women are at greater risk than others. Researchers have identified some risk factors, but providers still can't predict which women will deliver prematurely.
Three groups of women are at greatest risk for premature birth:
•Women who have had a previous premature birth
•Women who are pregnant with twins, triplets or more
•Women with certain uterine or cervical abnormalities
Certain lifestyle factors may put a woman at greater risk for preterm labor. These include:
•Late or no prenatal care
•Using illegal drugs
•Exposure to the medication DES
•Domestic violence (including physical, sexual or emotional abuse)
•Lack of social support
•Extremely high levels of stress
•Long working hours with long periods of standing
•Exposure to certain environmental pollutants
Certain medical conditions during pregnancy also may increase the likelihood that a woman will have preterm labor. These include:
•Infections (including urinary tract, vaginal, sexually transmitted and other infections)
•High blood pressure and preeclampsia
•Clotting disorders (thrombophilia)
•Being underweight before pregnancy
•Short time period between pregnancies [One study found that an interval of less than 18 months between birth and the beginning of the next pregnancy increased the risk of preterm labor, though the greatest risk was with intervals shorter than 6 months (9). A woman should discuss with her provider the best pregnancy spacing for her.]
•Being pregnant with a single fetus that is the result of in vitro fertilization
•Birth defects in the baby (10)
•Bleeding from the vagina
Certain demographic factors also increase the risk:
•Non-Hispanic black race
•Younger than age 17, or older than age 35
•Low socioeconomic status
And you can be neither of these things and still have a premature birth, which is why it is important to educate yourself and others on the signs of preterm labor
Warning signs of preterm labor
•Contractions (your abdomen tightens like a fist) every 10 minutes or more often
•Change in vaginal discharge (leaking fluid or bleeding from your vagina)
•Pelvic pressure—the feeling that your baby is pushing down
•Low, dull backache
•Cramps that feel like your period
•Abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea
What should I do if I think I'm having preterm labor?
Call your health care provider (nurse, doctor or midwife) or go to the hospital right away if you think you're having preterm labor, or if you have any of the warning signs. Call even
if you have only one sign.
Your health care provider may tell you to:
•Come into the office or go to the hospital for a checkup.
•Stop what you're doing. Rest on your left side for one hour.
•Drink 2-3 glasses of water or juice (not coffee or soda).
If the symptoms get worse or do not go away after one hour, call your provider again or go to the hospital. If the symptoms get better, relax for the rest of the day.
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