The Top 5 Risk Factors for Premature Birth
A premature baby is defined as one who is born three weeks or more before his due date (or earlier than 37 weeks). Important developmental milestones occur during a baby’s last few weeks in the womb, and missing them puts a preemie at risk for health complications ranging from the minor to the severe. Some things that cause premature birth are out of a mother’s control, like infections during pregnancy. Others, though, are influenced by an expecting mother’s behavior. Here are the 5 most common risk factors for premature birth, and what steps, if any, you can take to prevent them.
1. Cigarette smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy.
The Centers for Disease Control has long advised women to quit smoking completely during pregnancy, as it can lead to a range of risks including premature birth and birth defects. Likewise, it is the CDC’s position that there is no known safe amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy. To lower your baby’s risk of being born prematurely, abstain from smoking and drinking while you’re expecting.
2. High blood pressure.
High blood pressure comes with a number of health risks for you and your baby, including premature birth and preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is related to elevated blood pressure levels and affects the mother’s kidney, liver and brain. Talk to your doctor about healthy ways to lower your blood pressure, including regular exercise, limiting sodium in your diet and maintaining a healthy weight. If you take medication for your blood pressure, your doctor may recommend changes to it when you become pregnant.
If your diabetes is not well-controlled, meaning your blood sugar regularly rises above normal, it can cause complications including premature birth. If possible, plan your pregnancy and work with your doctor to attain better control over your blood sugar. You can do this by maintaining a healthy diet, getting physical exercise as recommended by your doctor and regularly monitoring your blood sugar.
4. Infections during pregnancy.
Intrauterine infection is caused by abnormal bacteria in your baby’s amniotic fluid. This may include E-coli, Streptococcus and sexually transmitted diseases. If the infection is bad enough, it may cause you to deliver early.
While infections often come unexpectedly, you can watch closely for signs to ensure early treatment. Symptoms may include fever, unusual discharge, a heightened pulse, nausea, vomiting and pain in your abdomen.
5. Problems with the cervix.
In some cases, the cervix opens early, as if preparing to give birth, before the baby has reached full term. This can be caused by a weak cervix, an infection and multiple other factors. If you have had premature births or miscarriages in the past, you may be at higher risk for cervical complications. Talk with your doctor about treatment options for cervical weakness.
The CDC advises all mothers work directly with their doctors to discuss risk factors and take steps to prevent premature birth when possible.
Connect with other parents, ask questions and share advice by joining our free Facebook community, MonParents.