Need to Know: Premature Births

While typical pregnancies last 40 weeks, about 10% of births now occur prematurely, according to the CDC. Babies born early – “preemies” and “micro preemies” – are at higher risk for health problems and need special care.

Any birth that occurs before 37 weeks of gestation is considered “pre-term” or premature.Babies born between 34–37 weeks of gestation are “late pre-term,” those born between 31–34 weeks are “moderately premature” and those born between 27–30 weeks are considered “very premature.” “Micro preemies,” the most premature babies of all, are born before 26 weeks of gestation or weigh less than one pound, 12 ounces (800 grams). The earlier the premature birth, the higher the risk for health issues, developmental issues and mortality. According to the CDC, pre-term birth rates rose for the third year in a row in 2017. Early births are also 50% higher for African Americans than for other women.

While some premature births can’t be avoided – being pregnant with multiples, having a premature baby in the past and certain health conditions increase risk – some can. Here are some ways that expectant mothers can take steps to reduce risk:

  • Take care of yourself before you get pregnant – Eliminating smoking, drinking and other substance use, being at a healthy weight (and gaining a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy), and getting treatment for health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid issues and depression all improve pre-term risks. Seeing a medical practitioner before you get pregnant can help you best prepare for a healthy pregnancy.
  • Reduce stress during pregnancy – Stress, which may result in anxiety and depression, can impact your resiliency and strength during pregnancy. To alleviate stress, ask for help, reduce obligations where possible and regularly do things that you enjoy.
  • Know the warning signs of early labor – Contact your health-care provider if you notice a change in vaginal discharge, feel cramps or pressure in your pelvis or lower belly (as if your baby is pushing down), or have a constant, low backache.
  • Advocate for yourself – Women of color are at higher risk of premature birth and racism in health care may be a factor. To get the best care possible, do research, ask questions, seek second opinions and make your voice heard. If you don’t feel comfortable with the care or attitude at your medical provider’s practice, don’t hesitate to look into changing providers.
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