Risk factors for preterm birth1
- Being pregnant with twins or triplets
- Having had a preterm delivery in the past
- A previous C-section delivery
- Abnormalities of the reproductive organs, such as a short cervix.
- Occurrence of a urinary tract infection during pregnancy
- Age of the mother: Women younger than 18 or women older than 35 are at risk.
- Ethnicity: African: American individuals area about 50% more at risk for preterm delivery.
Preterm births are on the rise in the United States, with 1 in every 10 births being preterm. When a baby is born before the 37 weeks of pregnancy duration, it is called a preterm birth. According to a report from the National Center For Health Statistics (NCHS), the preterm birth rates in the US rose from 2% in 2015 to 9.84% in 2016.2
Even if the baby survives a preterm birth, there are numerous complications it might face. Breathing problems, renal problems, vision and hearing problems, and developmental problems can be associated with preterm births. So what can you do as the carrying mother to reduce the risk of preterm birth?
1. Don’t Miss Prenatal Appointments
The minute your doctor confirms your pregnancy, follow up with a checkup and do not miss any of your prenatal appointments. It is natural to feel tired and nauseous during pregnancy, but however tired you are, don’t miss your check-ups. Sometimes, you may feel fine and seem healthy too, but there is no harm getting a checkup done to be sure your little one is healthy.
Prenatal appointments are not only for your baby but also you! During the checkup, expect your doctor to take a test of your blood sugar and blood pressure. Since diabetes and high blood pressure could lead to preterm delivery, it’s important that you take measures to manage the conditions. Additionally, make sure your doctor knows your personal and family medical history so that your risk factors are addressed. So, if you suffer from common conditions like PCOS or thyroid, make sure your doctor is aware of it.3
2. Get Checked For Infections
5 to 10 percent of all pregnant women are affected by silent UTIs (UTIs that show no symptoms) during the course of their pregnancy. UTI is a risk factor for preterm delivery.
This is something that your prenatal checkups might not screen for, so it’s wise you get medical tests done to diagnose or rule out vaginal infections like trichomoniasis and STIs like gonorrhoea or syphilis. Some STIs like chlamydia can, in fact, be passed from the mother to the child in the womb. Untreated infections could put you at a higher risk of preterm delivery, so it’s important that you get screened for them. Additionally, most STIs don’t carry any symptoms, so it’s never safe to assume that you’re safe.4
Another infection that’s common during pregnancy is UTI or urinary tract infection. Unless treated, it can not only cause preterm birth but also several other pregnancy-related complications. If you experience a burning sensation when you pee or feel the urge to pee frequently, you could be affected by a UTI. Sometimes, a UTI can be caused by bacteria present in the woman’s system before she’s pregnant and this type of UTI can show no symptoms. Hence, it’s important to get checked for both UTI and STIs.5
During your pregnancy, your body is more prone to infections than on regular days. To prevent contracting an infection, make sure you wash your hands regularly, especially if you’re around people that are sick or if you have pets. If you live in areas where infections like Zika are prevalent, talk to your healthcare provider about getting a vaccination.6
3. Avoid All Types Of Intoxicants
If you smoke, your risk of preterm delivery is 40% more than non-smoking mothers.
If you’re pregnant or planning to carry, refrain from any kind of intoxicants. Studies show that mothers who drink, smoke, or use drugs have a higher chance of undergoing preterm births than mothers who don’t. Even if the baby survives, he/she is likely to have brain, breathing and digestive problems. The baby could also be at a high risk for developmental and learning problems later in life. Even passive smoking during pregnancy can harm your baby. If you smoke, drink or use drugs, talk to your doctor and get the necessary help to quit.7
4. Opt For A “Traditional” Diet
During pregnancy, your diet is more important than ever. So, eat a balanced diet including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and fish. As much as possible, avoid processed food and beverages, as they could introduce chemicals into your system, which could cause complications during the time of delivery. Some studies have also shown that eating a “traditional” diet decreases the risk of preterm labor, so make sure you eat locally-grown foods, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and food that is exclusive to your culture.8
Additionally, talk to your healthcare provider about supplements. Consider opting for multivitamins with folic acid.9
5. Manage Your Weight
Obesity during pregnancy is another factor that could cause preterm birth. Although we know that obesity could increase your risk of preterm delivery, it’s not clear how or why obesity could lead to preterm. Studies have revealed that obese mothers could be at risk of extreme preterm delivery with high chances of stillbirth.10
If you don’t have a healthy BMI, talk to your healthcare provider or midwife about your weight during pregnancy. Maintain a healthy diet and outline an exercise plan to keep your weight in check and ensure that you have a normal delivery.
6. Reduce Stress
Physical and psychological stress is one of the major causes of preterm births or labors. If you experience anxiety or depression, seek social support from your friends and family. Make sure your environment is relaxing and comfortable. Opt for prenatal yoga and water exercises to stay relaxed. Try to be calm and relaxed throughout your pregnancy. If you’re nervous about the delivery, consider taking up a childbirth class. If you’re employed, issue a notice to your employer in advance so that you can take time away from work, especially in the later stages of your pregnancy.11
Know Your Symptoms
Despite all the efforts, some women may still undergo preterm births. While there is not much you can do, the least you can do is know the signs and take the necessary steps. Given below are a list of signs you can watch out for during your pregnancy. If you notice any of these signs, seek immediate medica help.
- More vaginal discharge than usual and a change in your discharge (watery, bloody, or filled with mucus).
- A pressure in your pelvis or lower belly, almost like your baby is pushing down.
- A constant backache even if it dull and bearable.
- Belly cramps accompanied by diarrhea.
- Frequent contractions where you feel like your belly tightens like a fist.
- Your water breaks.
If you experience any of the above symptoms before your 37 weeks of pregnancy, or if you doubt you’re having a preterm labor, call your doctor immediately. Sometimes, you may not experience all of these symptoms and may notice only one or a few. Discuss with your doctor even if you notice any one of these symptoms.
There are many treatments that can slow down your preterm labor. If your baby is born early, treatments such as antenatal corticosteroids can help overcome any health problems your baby may face. If you recently delivered, make sure you wait for at least 18 months before trying again. A short gap between pregnancies/deliveries could increase your risk of preterm birth.
|↑1||What are the risk factors for preterm labor and birth? Eunice Kennedy Shriver. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.|
|↑2||Preterm Birth. Centers for disease control and prevention.|
|↑3||What are the risk factors for preterm labor and birth? Eunice Kennedy Shriver. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development|
|↑4||Effects of STIs on Pregnancy. University of California, Santa Barbara.|
|↑5||Urinary Tract and Kidney Infections during Pregnancy. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.|
|↑6||10 Tips for Preventing Infections Before and During Pregnancy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑7||Wisborg, Kirsten, Tine Brink Henriksen, Morten Hedegaard, and Niels Jergen. “Smoking during pregnancy and preterm birth.” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology 103, no. 8 (1996): 800-805.|
|↑8||Englund-Ögge, Linda, Anne Lise Brantsæter, Verena Sengpiel, Margareta Haugen, Bryndis Eva Birgisdottir, Ronny Myhre, Helle Margrete Meltzer, and Bo Jacobsson. “Maternal dietary patterns and preterm delivery: results from large prospective cohort study.” Bmj 348 (2014): g1446.|
|↑9||HOW TO PREVENT GOING INTO LABOR BEFORE YOUR DUE DATE (PRETERM LABOR). University of Utah.|
|↑10||Cnattingius, Sven, Eduardo Villamor, Stefan Johansson, Anna-Karin Edstedt Bonamy, Martina Persson, Anna-Karin Wikström, and Fredrik Granath. “Maternal obesity and risk of preterm delivery.” Jama 309, no. 22 (2013): 2362-2370.|
|↑11||Wadhwa, Pathik D., Sonja Entringer, Claudia Buss, and Michael C. Lu. “The contribution of maternal stress to preterm birth: issues and considerations.” Clinics in perinatology 38, no. 3 (2011): 351-384.|