In honor of Prematurity Awareness Month, we’re joining with organizations around the world to bring awareness to the prevalence of preterm labor and birth. Preterm labor is when an expectant mother goes into labor before her 37th week of pregnancy. About one in ten babies born in the U.S. is considered preterm. Premature birth can put the baby at greater risk for medical and developmental problems down the road.
While the exact cause of preterm labor is often unknown, there are some risk factors that increase a woman’s chance of having preterm labor. It is important to remember that preterm labor can happen to anyone and many women who experience a premature birth have no known risk factors. While there is no guarantee that preterm labor can be prevented, there are some changes you can make to have a healthy pregnancy and reduce your risk of having a premature baby:
- Avoid tobacco, smoking, e-cigarettes and secondhand smoke
- Don’t drink alcohol while trying to get pregnant or during pregnancy
- Don’t use street drugs and avoid misuse of prescription drugs
- Talk to your health care provider about how much weight you should gain during pregnancy and do your best to get to a healthy weight before you get pregnant.
- Talk to your health care provider and come up with a plan to manage any chronic conditions you have.
- Make your first prenatal appointment as soon as you find out you are pregnant.
- Go to all of your prenatal appointments, even if you are feeling well. Prenatal care helps your health care provider make sure you and your baby are healthy.
- Eat a healthy diet, exercise and take prenatal vitamins.
- Reduce your stress; ask for help from family and friends.
- Protect yourself from infections.
- Live a healthy lifestyle.
- Know the signs of preterm labor and alert your health care provider if you’re experiencing them.
- Talk to your health care provider about how long you should wait before having your next baby.
At Virginia Women’s Center, our maternal-fetal medicine specialist collaborates with our OBGYNs in the care of high-risk pregnancies. Our maternal-fetal medicine specialist partners with women who have a higher risk of preterm labor and work to reduce that risk.
Know the signs of premature labor
Notify your provider if you have:
- Regular or frequent contractions, cramping or tightening of your uterus
- Abdominal cramps
- Constant low, dull backache
- Sensation of pelvic or lower abdominal pressure
- Vaginal spotting or light bleeding
- Change in vaginal discharge—watery, mucus-like or bloody
- Rupture of membranes—in a gush or continuous trickle of fluid
Remember, it’s Worth the Wait!
The last few weeks of pregnancy can be challenging. Not only are you anxious to meet your new addition, but you also may feel increasingly uncomfortable. However, because your baby is still developing, it’s best to stay pregnant until at least 39 weeks. Please note: If there is a medical indication, your health care provider may recommend delivery before 39 weeks.
Here’s why your baby needs 39 weeks:
- Important organs, like your baby’s brain, lungs and liver, have time to fully develop.
- Your baby is less likely to have vision and hearing problems after birth.
- Your baby has more time to gain weight in the womb, which means he or she will have an easier time staying warm.
- Your baby can suck, swallow and stay awake long enough to eat after he or she is born.