Pregnant women often are full of concerns, especially if they are first-time moms-to-be. One of the biggest concerns is if their baby will arrive too early.
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In the United States, one of about every 10 babies is born pre-term, meaning the baby is born before the 37th week of pregnancy.
Babies who are born too early are at a higher risk of serious disability — or even death.
Keep a healthy weight
Most pre-term births are not preventable. However, there are certain risk factors that increase the odds of not carrying a baby to full term, says Ob/Gyn Salena Zanotti, MD.
“Studies are starting to appear that show that women who are either underweight or overweight are at a higher risk for pre-term delivery,” Dr. Zanotti says. “As we all know, obesity is a problem in this country. So making sure that you have a normal weight is one thing we can really try to encourage women to work on.”
Women who are carrying multiple babies usually are at a higher risk for pre-term delivery, so they are monitored very closely as a precaution, Dr. Zanotti says.
Women who become pregnant at a very young age as well as women who become pregnant after age 35 also are at a higher risk of pre-term delivery, she says. Lifestyle habits can play a role too; which is why it’s important to avoid smoking, alcohol or the use of illegal drugs.
Another risk factor for pre-term delivery exists for women who have had previous procedures performed on their cervix because of pre-cancerous concerns.
“If you’ve had a procedure to your cervix because of abnormal pap smears and precancerous changes, you are at a higher risk for pre-term labor and pre-term delivery,” Dr. Zanotti says.
Advances in prenatal care
Women who have had previous pre-term births are at a higher risk in future pregnancies, Dr. Zanotti says. However, advances in prenatal care with the use of progesterone injections have made it possible to significantly reduce that risk for these women.
“We’re using those in women who have had a prior pre-term birth,” Dr. Zanotti says. “So the drug does not prevent a pre-term birth the first time around, unfortunately, or for women with a multiple pregnancy. But it has been found to be helpful in women with a single pregnancy who have had a pre-term delivery.”