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We’re half-way through National Prematurity Awareness Month, an event that happens each November, so the news that preterm birth rates have dropped is fitting (and excellent) news. According to the March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card the number of premature babies born in the United States dropped drastically in 2012 down to 11.5% – that’s a 15-year low! However, before you get too excited, be aware that this change, though awesome, is not enough to save all the babies it should. Even with the drop in preterm birth rates, the United States still only scored an overall national grade of a “C” with regard to premature babies. The March of Dimes also points out that 1 in 9 babies (450,000 a year) are born far too soon in the U.S., making the U.S. rate of premature babies higher than that of most other developed nations.
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Preterm birth is defined as a baby born at least three weeks before its due date, which means the baby misses out on some key growth and development perks that full-term babies experience. Preterm babies account for a large proportion of infant deaths, and while clearly death is the worst outcome if your baby is born early, many other bad outcomes may also arise. The CDC points out that not only do most premature babies spend weeks or months hospitalized in a neonatal intensive care unit, babies born too soon may suffer from life-long challenges and health problems such as:
- Intellectual disabilities
- Cerebral palsy
- Breathing and respiratory problems
- Visual problems
- Hearing loss
- Feeding and digestive problems
Some factors pose well-known preterm birth risks such as being an African American woman, carrying multiples, having problems with your uterus or cervix, or mothers with chronic health problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes. However, this doesn’t mean preterm birth is inevitable — you just need to discuss these issues with your midwife or doctor. If you have none of the above risk factors, you can still be at risk for preterm birth. Reduce your chances of having a preterm baby by doing the following:
- Never smoke, drink or do drugs while pregnant.
- Seek prenatal care early and regularly.
- Eat a healthy diet while pregnant.
- Take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily before and during early pregnancy.
- Report any illnesses, infections, bleeding or weird pain right away to your midwife or doctor.
Visit the March of Dimes to learn more about how you can help support the cause for stronger, healthier babies who are born right on time and not one moment sooner.