Becoming aware of preterm birth

. October 30, 2015.

November is Prematurity Awareness Month, the perfect time of year to become educated on this major public health issue.  The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists define preterm labor as regular contractions of the uterus resulting in changes in the cervix that start before 37 weeks.  When birth occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy, it is considered preterm.  “Babies born too soon are at risk for lifelong or life-threatening health problems,” said Enna Whitted, Division Director of March of Dimes’ Ann Arbor.  These issues can include difficulty breathing, impaired vision, cerebral palsy or learning disabilities.  

By being in tune with your body and knowing what is normal for you, you will be able to identify if you may be experiencing preterm birth.  “Signs you may have preterm labor include contractions that make your belly tighten up like a fist every 10 minutes or more often; change in the color of your vaginal discharge or bleeding from your vagina; the feeling that your baby is pushing down;  low, dull backache; cramps that feel like your period; or belly cramps with or without diarrhea. Call your healthcare provider or go to the hospital right away if you think you are having preterm labor or if you have any of the warning signs,” said Whitted.  Early recognition of preterm labor may make it possible to stop and prevent preterm birth.

Risk Factors

Some women are more at risk for preterm labor than others. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists listed risk factors including having a previous preterm birth; having a short cervix; short interval between pregnancies; history of certain types of surgeries on the uterus or cervix; certain pregnancy complications such as multiple pregnancy and vaginal bleeding; and lifestyle factors such as low pre-pregnancy weight, smoking during pregnancy and substance abuse during pregnancy.  The best prevention for preterm labor is good prenatal care. It is wise to start talking to an obstetrician/gynecologist before you conceive.  

Do not panic if your baby is born early and needs to stay in the Newborn ICU. Each baby will receive intensive care from a team of specialists. Treatment is individualized, and while outcomes vary, most NICU graduates will go on to lead happy, healthy, normal lives.

Every year, about 450,000 babies are born preterm in the United States. After rising by 36 percent over 25 years (1981-2006), our country’s preterm birth rate has declined by 11 percent over the last 7 years. However, the U.S. preterm birth rate remains too high at 11.4 percent, which is higher than that of most developed nations.

Premature birth costs society more than $26 billion a year and takes a high toll on families. 

“In 2003, the March of Dimes launched the Prematurity Campaign to address the crisis and help families have full-term, healthy babies. We’re funding lifesaving research and speaking out for legislation that improves care for moms and babies,” said Whitted. 

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health.
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