Prematurity Awareness Month

Every expectant mom’s first and foremost wish for her unborn child is health. When complications occur and babies are born prematurely, it can be a traumatic and life-changing incident for the family, especially the baby. Premature births can have serious complications that affect babies for a lifetime which is why the March of Dimes has designated November as Prematurity Awareness Month and November 17 as National Prematurity Day.

According to the March of Dimes, over 350,000 babies are born prematurely in the U.S. every year. While the premature birth rate is on the decline over the past several years, premature births still significantly impact families, businesses, the health care system and most of all, the health of babies.

Prematurity Awareness MonthPremature birth is defined as babies that are born prior to 37 weeks of gestation. Babies continue to grow and develop throughout pregnancy and some vital growth occurs in the final weeks in the womb. According to the CDC, premature birth is the leading cause of infant death in the U.S.  Preemies often spend their first days, weeks and months in the NICU where they can be cared for and protected as they continue to develop. The goal is to give them time to grow into healthy babies.

However, long term birth defects may result from premature births including respiratory conditions, hearing and vision loss, digestive issues, cerebral palsy and other mental disabilities. The chance of birth defects increases when babies are very premature, which is any birth prior to 32 weeks of gestation.

Some premature births are unforeseen, are not brought on by the actions of a pregnant mother and are unavoidable. While premature births are not desired by anyone and are often sudden and surprising, there are risk factors that mothers should be aware of to help avoid the onset of premature delivery. Prematurity Awareness Month brings attention to these important risk factors and risky behaviors to help mothers become more vigilant of their health to protect their babies.

Risk factors for premature birth include:

  • Having multiples
  • Having a previous premature baby
  • Complications or infections during pregnancy
  • Chronic maternal health conditions such as diabetes, organ problems or high blood pressure
  • Consumption of alcohol, illegal drugs or smoking during pregnancy

If you have any of these risk factors or even if you don’t, taking steps to avoid a premature birth is crucial. Start by eating a healthy pregnancy diet and avoiding alcohol, drugs (including unapproved prescription or OTC medications) and smoking. Plus, take prenatal vitamins and exercise regularly at a safe fitness level for you. Discuss your existing health conditions and pregnancy complications with your doctor often. You’ll both want to keep a close watch on how they are affecting your baby. It is likely that you will be monitored more closely than other pregnant women and you may be sent to specialists. Additionally, you should be more sensitive to signs of preterm labor, such as early contractions, cramping, abdominal pressure, discharge or bleeding, and notify your doctor immediately if any of them arise.

Be your own advocate for doing everything you can to carry your baby as long as possible. Barring a medical emergency, discuss all angles with your doctor before agreeing to an early delivery. The best outcomes occur when babies are allowed to decide when they want to emerge into the world. And should you have an unexpected premature baby, remember that breast milk is the very best nutrition for preemies and can greatly improve their health outcomes. As soon as you and your baby are stable, ask your nurses about breastfeeding or pumping so you can provide this nutritious, healing superfood for your baby.

Take this opportunity during Prematurity Awareness Month to familiarize yourself with the risk factors of preterm birth and health practices you employ to avoid the premature birth of your baby.

Sources: March of Dimes and Centers for Disease Control