It was early morning on a Friday and Martha was only 28 weeks pregnant when she started having contractions. At first she thought they where Braxton Hicks contractions but after 45 minutes even though they where not painful, the contractions where coming regularly every five minutes. She had to go to the hospital where she was administered medication to stop the contractions and had, antibiotics to combat an infection that was detected and steroids to help the baby’s lungs mature quickly in case he was born prematurely. After 10 days in the hospital and weeks of bed rest Martha finally gave birth to her baby, Valentina, at 37 weeks. Martha was lucky, every year one out of eight births are premature. Today is World Prematurity Day. Premature birth is the number one cause for neonatal death and there are some steps pregnant mothers can take to reduce the risk of their babies being born prematurely.
CAUSES FOR PREMATURE BIRTH
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the March of Dimes the causes for premature births are not known for certain but it is believed that in many cases they can be triggered by the body’s response to certain bacteriological infections like:
• Vaginal infections: a common vaginal infection which affects 17% of women duplicates the risk of a premature birth. This is due to the body’s production of chemicals to combat the bacterial infection, which cause inflammation and this in turn triggers the production of hormones that start contractions and dilation. This type of infection can be treated easily.
• Infection in the fetal membranes: any bacterial infection which affects the amniotic liquid or the fetal membranes increases the risk of a premature birth. Once detected this infection can be treated with antibiotics that are safe for both the mother and the baby.
• Periodontal disease: research done by the University of North Carolina in 1996 found that women who suffer from this gum disease have 7 times more probabilities of having a premature birth. This is due to the fact that infection causes the production of substances in the body that can trigger the birth process.
RECOGNIZING AND REDUCING THE RISK FOR PREMATURE BIRTH
The March of Dimes recommends the following steps to prevent and reduce the risk of premature births.
1. Receive early and regular prenatal care. Visit the doctor as soon as you find out you are pregnant. If you are planning to get pregnant visit your doctor so you can start taking prenatal vitamins and folic acid which prevents neural tube defects and is most important in the first month of the baby’s development, when you usually still don’t know you are pregnant. It’s a good idea to take prenatal vitamins and folic acid all the time, as 50% of pregnancies are unplanned.
2. Inform yourself about risk factors. Risk factors include: a previous premature birth, smoking or using drugs, high blood pressure or diabetes, multiple pregnancies, being over 35 years of age, being overweight, having a complication during pregnancy like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, stress, working long hours standing up, having been pregnant less than 9 months before and having any problems with your uterus, cervix or placenta.
3. Get checked out by your doctor. Diagnosing and recognizing infections and other diseases during pregnancy is key to treat them on time and reduce the risks of a premature birth.
4. Make an appointment with your dentist. Get your teeth cleaned and make sure you don’t have gum disease. Take special care of your mouth and teeth during all of your pregnancy.
5. Stay away from cigarettes, drugs and alcohol.
6. Eat healthy and take care of your weight. Being overweight during pregnancy increases your chances of having complications. Stay away from saturated fats and refined sugars.
7. Relive stress, rest well and don’t work to hard. Stress makes it four times more probable to have a premature baby because it triggers hormonal alterations and lowers your defenses making you more susceptible to infections.
8. Recognize the signals. A pregnancy is considered to be full term at 37 weeks, if you have any of the following symptoms before then it could be that you are having preterm labor and you must call your doctor immediately.
– Regular uterine contractions every 10 minutes or less, these can become closer together and more painful
– Menstrual-like cramps
– Pelvic pressure that comes and goes
– Lower back pain that can be constant or come and go
– Vaginal bleeding or loss of amniotic fluid
World Prematurity Day and RSV – Awareness Can Save Babies’ Lives!