Researchers have identified the three major risk factors of preterm birth and mothers will be happy to know you have some control in the matter. Preterm birth, as defined by having a baby prior to 37 weeks of gestation, occurs in 11.4 percent of births in the U.S. By knowing and managing the major risk factors of preterm birth, you can lower your baby’s chance of joining that statistic.
Using data from 400,000 U.S. births between 2006 and 2011, researchers from the Center for the Prevention of Preterm Birth at Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital narrowed down the three major risk factors of preterm birth to having less than one year between pregnancies, being a healthy weight at the beginning of pregnancy, and gaining the appropriate amount of weight during pregnancy.
Previous studies indicate that spacing pregnancies at least 18 months apart helps significantly reduce risk of preterm birth. Women who conceive within a year of giving birth are twice as likely to deliver the second baby prematurely. Family planning is especially important as more parents are waiting until an older age to have children. This sometimes leads to less spacing between children which contributes to preterm birth.
Healthy Pre-Pregnancy Weight
Your weight is a factor in conception but it also affects the course of your pregnancy including risk of preterm birth. A BMI (body mass index which measures body fat in relation to height and weight) of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered healthy. Women who are under this range are usually instructed to gain more during pregnancy and those who are over are often advised to gain less. Being underweight prior to pregnancy seemed to be a bigger risk factor of preterm birth than being overweight.
Healthy Pregnancy Weight Gain
Experts generally recommend a weight gain of 25 to 35 pounds for women who begin pregnancy with a healthy BMI. Remember, most of this weight is not the baby itself but rather increased quantities of blood, extra fat stores, the placenta, water retention and breast enlargement. Gaining too little or too much during pregnancy can be particularly harmful to babies.
Dangers of Preterm Birth
Your baby is growing and developing day-by-day in your womb. When babies are not given enough time to properly develop they are at risk for many complications in infancy and beyond. The most common dangers of preterm birth are birth defects including respiratory, heart, gastrointestinal and mental issues as well as developmental and behavioral problems. Babies born prematurely often spend time in the NICU which delays breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact and bonding.
Managing Your Risk
While pregnancy spacing, pre-pregnancy weight and pregnancy weight gain are not the only risk factors of preterm birth, they are the most significant indicators of this potentially life-threatening event. And you have control of each of them. Family planning and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle before and during pregnancy are steps you can take for the health of your baby.
There are certainly health aspects of pregnancy, childbirth and child rearing that are out of your control, but making smart choices to protect your unborn baby and then giving her the best start in life with breast milk are excellent ways of nurturing and safeguarding your baby’s health.
Sources: WebMD and Parenting