According to the March of Dimes (MOD), 1 in 8 babies are born prematurely in the United States every day. Many preterm babies that survive face long stays in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) in order to be treated for serious medical complications. The good news is that most babies born premature will go home and grow up healthy and without lingering health problems.
Still, according to MOD, some premature babies can be disabled for life due to their early birth, and struggle with conditions such as cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities and learning problems, lung disease, and vision and hearing problems. The organization says that “half of all neurological disabilities in children are related to premature birth”.
PREMATURITY AWARENESS MONTH
The March of Dimes has chosen November as Prematurity Awareness Month and November 17 as World Prematurity Day. The organization is leading the fight to defeat premature birth at both a national and international level. Thanks to their efforts, the rate of premature births fell from 20% of all births between 1990 and 2006 to 12.3% in 2008. The organization is now working on its next goal—to reduce the rate of premature births to 7.6%.
WHY ARE BABIES BORN PREMATURELY?
Scientists are not ready to give a precise answer to why some babies are born prematurely. Although there is ongoing research, the fact is that more than 40% of premature births are due to an unknown cause. Still, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests there may be four primary reasons for spontaneous, premature labor.
Infections/Inflammation: Premature labor is often caused by the mother’s body’s natural immune response to bacterial infections.
Maternal or Fetal Stress: A stressed mom-to-be—whether she’s psychologically or physically stressed—can produce a stress-related hormone called corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH). This hormone can be the trigger for other hormones to start contractions and premature birth.
Bleeding: Uterine bleeding may release various proteins involved in blood clotting, which stimulates uterine contractions.
Stretching: When the uterus is overstretched because there is more than one fetus or there are other uterine or placental problems, this can stimulate uterine contractions.
WHO IS IN THE RISK GROUP?
According to The March of Dimes, the following factors can place a pregnant woman at risk for premature birth:
- Past history of premature birth.
- Pregnant with twins, triplets or more.
- Uterine or cervical abnormalities.
- Late, little or no prenatal care.
- Smoking during pregnancy.
- Drinking or using illegal drugs during pregnancy.
- Domestic violence or lack of social support.
- Stress, or having to stand for long periods (at the workplace).
- Exposure to environmental pollutants.
- Thrombophilia, infections, high blood pressure problems, bleeding (spotting), obesity, eating disorders, or close intervals between pregnancies.
- Being African-American.
- Being under 17 or over 35.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF PRETERM LABOR
If you are pregnant, these are the signs of premature labor for which you should be on the lookout:
- Contractions every 10 minutes or more often.
- Leaking fluid or bleeding from your vagina.
- Feeling that your baby is pushing down.
- A lower back ache, not necessarily very painful but enough to cause discomfort.
- Cramps that feel like menstrual cramps .
- Stomach cramps, with or without diarrhea.
There is a great deal of progress being made to fight preterm birth, but there’s still a long way to go to lower preterm birth rate to 0%. But if you are pregnant—or you know someone who is—educating yourself or your loved ones about risk factors, preventive steps and signs to watch out for are the best ways to prevent a bundle of joy from arriving too soon.