November will be Prematurity Awareness Month: A premature or preterm baby is born before completing 36 weeks of pregnancy. An average pregnancy is 40 weeks, so a premature baby is born at least 3 weeks early. Low birth weight (LBW) is defined as the weight of live born infants less than 2,500 grams.
One of the goals for Prematurity Awareness Month is to stress to the public that prematurity is a serious health problem. In Texas, 1 in 6 African American babies is born too small and too soon. Premature births lead to increased risk for newborn health complications, lifelong disabilities, and even death. Lifelong disabilities may include cerebral palsy, mental retardation, learning problems, chronic breathing problems, vision and hearing loss. Other health complications can include low blood sugar, Jaundice, feeding problems, and difficulty maintaining their temperature.
The health of the mother, particularly during the pregnancy is very important. The following risk factors among many others can be treated or avoided to reduce having a premature baby. If you are a mother who is smoking, drinking alcohol, and using illegal drugs then your risks are greater. A few other factors include:
- Domestic violence
- Multiple births
- Gum disease
- High blood pressure
- Underweight or obese
What can I do to reduce my chance of having a premature baby?
It can be difficult to predict which woman will deliver prematurely. However, there are some steps to take to reduce your risk which include:
- As soon as you become aware you are pregnant, begin prenatal care early and keep all your appointments.
- Take a multivitamin every day that contains 400 mcg of folic acid. Start before you are pregnant.
- Plan your pregnancies and allow time between pregnancies.
- Lastly, try to reduce stress. Seek help and support from family and friends.