Each year more than half a million babies in the United States are born premature. Some are so small they can fit in the palm of your hand. Prematurity is the leading cause of death among newborn babies according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A premature birth is defined as a birth that is at least three weeks before a baby’s due date. Serious health risks are associated with a premature birth, such as special care, spending weeks or months in a neonatal intensive care unit. Newborns that survive may face lifelong problems such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, breathing and respiratory problems, vision and hearing loss, and feeding and digestive problems.
Known risk factors for premature birth are:
• Carrying more than one baby (twins, triplets, quadruplets and more),
• Having a previous preterm birth,
• Problems with the uterus and cervix,
• Chronic health problems in the mother, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and clotting disorders,
• Certain infections during pregnancy, and
• Cigarette smoking, alcohol use, or illicit drug use during pregnancy.
According to the CDC, preterm birth can happen to anyone. Premature births can happen with no known risk factors. Things you can do to help your own health and lower your risk of having a premature baby are:
• Quit smoking and avoid substance such as alcohol and drugs.
• See your health care provider for a medical checkup before pregnancy.
• Work with your health care provider to control diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
• Get prenatal care early, as soon as you think you may be pregnant, and throughout pregnancy.
• Discuss concerns with your health care providers and seek medical attention for any warning signs or symptoms of preterm labor.
For more information on Prematurity Awareness Month or premature babies visit
www.cdc.gov, www.southhealthdistrict.com, or call your local health department.