Understanding Preterm Birth

pregnantApproximately 1 in 8 pregnancies results in preterm birth. Preterm refers to any baby delivered before week 37, with full-term pregnancies going to 40 weeks.

The last few weeks of a pregnancy are very significant to a baby’s development. Because many of the baby’s systems have not had time to completely develop, the earlier a baby is delivered the more severe the health problems could be. For instance, babies born extremely preterm might experience problems with eating and digesting, auditory impairment, visual problems, respiratory issues, cerebral palsy, and neurological problems. For those born exceptionally early, these are health issues that may linger for life. Babies delivered closer to their anticipated due date, yet still considered preterm, may have jaundice, respiratory issues and require a more extensive stay in the hospital than a child delivered at full term.

Preterm labor most often begins without warning and with no known reason. Some indications that a woman could be experiencing premature labor would include contractions, cramps similar to those experienced during a period, cramps not accompanied by loose stools, pressure in the pelvis, a backache felt low in the back, and any change in a woman’s discharge. If any of these signs are noticed a woman should see her ob-gyn for care immediately.

Some things an expectant mother can do to have the healthiest pregnancy possible include not smoking, tobacco cessation if she does smoke, having good medical care prior to getting pregnant, and of course seeing her ob-gyn faithfully during her pregnancy. Other ways to have a healthy, full-term pregnancy include eating a healthy diet, and controlling high blood pressure and diabetes. Even when a woman does all of the above a preterm birth can occur.

There are some risk factors to be aware of concerning preterm births. On average, African-American women are 50% more apt to deliver prematurely than their Caucasian counterparts. Women carrying multiple babies are also at higher risk than women carrying one baby. Women who have cervix or uterus problems are at greater risk, as are those with long-term health problems. Tobacco use also raises the risk of preterm delivery.

While most pregnancies go full term and result in a healthy baby, it is important for women to be knowledgeable about preterm birth, be aware of the signs and know what to do should preterm labor occur. Seeking appropriate medical care from an ob-gyn throughout pregnancy is an important step in delivering a healthy, full-term baby.

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