As a pregnant woman, you probably know your due date and expect your baby to be born right around that time. But do you know that every year in the U.S., more than 476,000 babies are born too early? That’s approximately 12 percent of all live births—or one of eight babies born. Yet for half of these babies born too soon there is no known cause why labor and birth occurred too early.
Babies born too soon, or prematurely, can suffer lifelong health consequences, such as mental retardation, chronic lung disease, cerebral palsy and blindness, among other problems. Babies born prematurely are the leading cause of newborn death. Prematurity is such a large threat to unborn babies that many organizations have joined forces to better understand its causes so that it can be prevented.
Because we do not yet know how to prevent preterm labor, which can lead to preterm birth, the best actions for pregnant women are to stay as healthy as possible through pregnancy and know the signs of preterm labor. By knowing these signs, pregnant women and their unborn babies can get early treatment to help reduce the problems associated with being born too soon or too small.
Are you experiencing, or have you experienced, any of the following during your pregnancy; if you answer “yes” and are less than 37 weeks gestation you may be at risk for preterm labor and/or birth. The more “yes” answers you give, the greater the risk — discuss these factors as soon as possible with your healthcare provider:
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, contact your health care provider as they have instructed or go to the hospital—your baby could be at risk for premature birth. Premature babies are those who are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, or three or more weeks before your due date. Preterm labor can happen to any pregnant woman at any time. In some cases it can be stopped or medications can be given to help the baby before delivery. Knowing about preterm labor now could save your baby’s life. When you contact your health care provider, she or he may tell you to:
Experts don’t know exactly what causes preterm labor or birth but there are some widely recognized choices that women can make to help give their babies the healthiest start possible, including:
Talk to your nurses and doctors—they understand how serious premature birth can be and they can help you identify the ways you might be at risk for premature birth.