Be aware of risk factors, signs of premature birth

Posted by Donald Weber, M.D.
November 25, 2013

Donald Weber MDIt’s November, which means it’s also National Prematurity Awareness Month. No parent wants to think about the possibility of having a premature baby. As uncomfortable as this thought is, it’s important to talk with your physician and your family about what you’ll do in case a premature birth occurs.

A birth is considered premature if the baby is born between 20 to 37 weeks of pregnancy. Many complications can occur in a child as a result of preterm birth, such as underdeveloped brain and lungs, jaundice and infections. Premature birth can affect the baby long term, too. Some of the most common long term effects include neurological problems, not reaching full growth or chronic medical problems such as lung disease and Cerebral Palsy.

The good news is that with today’s technology, the survival rate of premature babies has increased to 90 percent for a baby born at 25 weeks. Even though this is good news, it’s still important to be cautious throughout your pregnancy and know the risk factors that increase the likelihood of a preterm labor.

Some of these factors include:

  • Twins or triplets
  • Being overweight or underweight
  • Previous premature births
  • Smoking or illicit drug use
  • Pregnancies close together
  • Problems with the uterus or cervix
  • Uterine or kidney infection
  • High blood pressure
  • Having a lot of stress

It’s important to realize that, even if the above factors are avoided and you keep yourself as healthy as possible, preterm birth can still occur. In about 30 percent of cases, the cause of premature birth is undetermined. Knowing the signs of premature labor is crucial in getting the appropriate amount of care as soon as possible.

Some of the tell-tale signs of preterm labor are:

  • Contractions
  • Backache
  • Change in vaginal discharge or bleeding
  • Stomach cramps
  • Cramps associated with periods
  • Pelvic pressure, or the feeling that the baby is pushing down

Taking precautions to avoid premature birth are important. During pregnancy, mothers should eat healthy, get plenty of rest, follow the weight-gain guidelines and get plenty of calcium, folic acid and iron.

To learn more about premature birth and labor, please visit the transcription of the Twitter Chat I participated in with the March of Dimes.

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