Breast cancer scares most women because 1 in 8 women are affected by breast cancer in their lifetime. But did you know that 1 in 8 babies in this country are born prematurely—that is before they’ve completed 37 gestational weeks? If you’re considering getting pregnant or are pregnant now, understanding your risks for preterm birth are important.
It’s a silent epidemic in this country. If you lived in Ireland or Finland your chances of having a preterm birth would be 1 in 18! Of course this doesn’t mean that 1 in 8 women will have a premature baby. The biggest risk factor for having a premature baby is having already had a premature baby.
In the U.S., we try to save event the youngest and smallest of babies yet we rank 30th worldwide in the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births in this country. Since 1984, healthcare experts have observed an increasing number of babies being born prematurely in the U.S. – the total number of premature births is up 36% since 1984.
Analysis of data from the U.S. and Europe indicates that we care for our preterm infants very well, in most cases with better survival rates for prematurity than in Europe. However, because we have so many more preterm babies born here, and because those babies are more likely than babies carried to term to die in infancy, our country’s infant mortality rate remains high.
Prematurity: An unknown cause
No one knows what causes prematurity. In addition to having already had a preterm baby, you and your baby may be at risk for experiencing preterm labor and preterm birth if you have a multiple gestation pregnancy, if you are African American, if you don’t get regular prenatal care during pregnancy, or if you are taking certain medications.
Working with your healthcare provider will not only give you the greatest chance of having the healthiest pregnancy possible, it can reduce your risks for preterm birth. And there are many things you can do to improve your chances of having a healthy baby born after 37 weeks of gestation, including:
- plan your pregnancy
- get your body ready for pregnancy by achieving a healthy weight, measured by your body mass index
- discuss what medicines you’re taking now with your healthcare provider, including medications without a prescription, to be sure they’re safe for pregnancy
- take a multivitamin everyday that includes folic acid to prevent the most common birth defects. Folic acid needs to be taken before conception for maximum impact
- stop smoking and drinking
- get any boosters or immunizations you may need
- wait at least 18 months after the birth of one baby before conceiving another; give your body enough time to cover from labor, birth and breastfeeding before nurturing another baby through pregnancy
Like most things in life, the more you know about how to manage your risks that may arise in pregnancy, the healthier you and your baby will be.