Ahead of their time

With preterm births increasing across the country, there’s a lot that moms should know about the added risks of these early births.
A preterm birth, which happens at 37 weeks or earlier, comes with added risks. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Do you know anyone who had an early baby? Just thinking about my own family, I gave birth to our oldest daughter at 32 weeks into my pregnancy.

My daughter then went on to have her own baby at 35 weeks.

Both babies were born before 37 weeks, which means they were preterm babies.

We found out it was a placental issue with the preterm birth of my daughter, but there was no known cause for my daughter’s preterm birth of her son.

Preterm births are becoming increasingly common. The preterm birth rate declined from 2004-12, but in the last few years it inched up again, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2015, 1 in 10 babies were born preterm. Michigan’s preterm birth rate is 9.9 percent, while the national average is 9.6 percent. This means about 380,000 babies are born too early in the U.S.

Worldwide, an estimated 15 million babies are born premature. Of that number, more that 60 percent are in Asia and Africa. The U.S. ranks sixth in the total number of preterm births.

Risk factors, prevention

What are the risks of preterm birth? These tiny babies are so adorable, but they can have many health issues, including feeding problems, breathing issues (remember: the lungs are one of the last organs to fully develop), developmental delays, vision problems, hearing concerns and many other problems.

According to the CDC, moms at greatest risk of preterm birth are:

  • African-American
  • Battling an infection
  • Likely to have had a previous preterm birth
  • Carrying more than one baby
  • Battling high blood pressure or gestational diabetes
  • Using tobacco or recreational drugs
  • Late in seeking prenatal care
  • Under extreme stress
  • Having problems with the uterus or cervix (such as dilating early)
  • Between the ages of 17 and 35
  • From lower economic status

How can you prevent preterm birth?

  • Go to prenatal appointments right away
  • Eat healthy
  • Avoid excess stress
  • If possible, reach a healthy weight before becoming pregnant
  • Avoid infections—wash hands, don’t change kitty litter, don’t eat raw meat
  • If possible, treat other issues before pregnancy, including thyroid, blood sugar and high blood pressure
  • Allow more time between pregnancies
  • Treat any dental concerns. It’s not entirely clear why, but mouth health is connected to early birth
  • Take a prenatal vitamin
  • Stay hydrated
  • Keep your bladder empty. Infections can cause contractions

Preterm signs

There are signs to watch for that may indicate preterm labor. Keep in mind, of course, that each pregnancy is different for each woman.

Early expectations

What can you expect if you go to the birth center or hospital for preterm labor?

  • You’ll be asked for a urine sample to check for bladder or kidney infection.
  • You’ll be put on the fetal monitor to assess the baby and the uterine contractions.
  • Most likely, a nurse will give you IV fluids. (Dehydration can cause preterm labor contractions.)
  • You may be given a medication to help stop the contractions.
  • You may also get a medication to help baby’s lungs mature.

If you are having low back pain or cramping or lots of pelvic pressure, and these are new and different symptoms for you, you should call your provider. Also, bleeding or leaking fluid can be an indicator of preterm labor.

Another sign to watch for: regular contractions.

It’s sometimes hard to tell if they are “real” or Braxton Hicks contractions. Just remember that real contractions don’t go away no matter what position you’re in. Always call your provider or the hospital if you have questions.

Testing

There are a few tests that can check for preterm labor. One of these is the cervical length test, which uses an ultrasound to check the length of the cervix. This is performed on the routine 18- to 20-week fetal scans, giving your provider something to compare for subsequent tests.

Another test, fetal fibronectin, checks for a protein found in the amniotic fluid. It can help predict if you might go into preterm labor.

There are some things you can do to help prevent a preterm birth, but it can’t always be avoided. Did you have a preterm birth? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

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