By Brandi M. Seals
November is Prematurity Awareness Month. Did you know more than half a million babies are born premature every year and that number is on the rise?
More than 12 percent or 1 in 8 American babies are born prematurely each year. Premature birth is designated as birth before the 37th week of gestation. It is the number one cause of death for newborns and those born prematurely have an increased risk of developing lifelong disabilities.
A recent study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that premature birth contributed to over one-third of infant deaths within their first year. Healthy pregnancies are the way to preventing premature births
To have a healthy pregnancy, all should take care to:
Get regular prenatal care
Take prenatal vitamins
Eat a balanced, nutritious diet
Get light exercise
Avoid uncooked meats
Steer clear of fish containing mercury
Do not ingest un-pasteurized dairy products
Keep the stress low
Keep you teeth and gums healthy
As you near the end of your pregnancy, take care to watch for warning signs of premature labor. If you think you may be in premature labor, call your doctor immediately. You may be able to stop the labor if you get to the doctor in time. Waiting too long could mean your baby will be born prematurely.
Premature labor symptoms include:
Contractions every 10 minutes or less, (five or more contractions in an hour)
Fluid leaking from the vagina (This may indicate that your water has broken)
Cramps similar to menstral cramps
Dull backache in the lower back
Abdominal cramps that may be accompanied by diarrhea.
Unusual or increased of vaginal discharge.
Blood leaking from your vagina.
If you have any of these symptoms and think you are in premature labor, call your healthcare provider immediately. You will also want to empty your bladder and lie down on your left side and drink fluids.
If this is your first pregnancy, be aware that contractions are not unusual prior to labor. It is how frequent they occur that you should be concerned with. It is completely normal for your uterus to contract during the pregnancy. The muscle of the uterus may tighten sporadically throughout the pregnancy. Some women feel them early on, as early as four months into the pregnancy. But most women do not notice them until they are several months along, like during the seventh or eighth months.
These contractions are usually not painful. Most tend to notice contractions when they lie down, have an orgasm, have a full bladder, or after walking up and down stairs. These contractions are known as Braxton-Hicks contractions. Note that these contractions are generally irregular and do no open the cervix. If the contractions become regular for at least an hour, they may be regular contractions and cause preterm labor.
If you are unsure as to whether or not you are having a contraction, it is easy to check. Simply lie down and place your fingertips on your uterus. If you are having a contraction, you will be able to feel the walls of the uterus tighten and soften. Usually the entire abdomen will feel hard during contractions. When you are not experiencing contractions, the abdomen should be soft in all areas. However, remember that is also common for the abdomen to by firm over the baby's head and butt.
If you are experiencing contractions at regular intervals, it is time to see how far apart the contractions are. To time the contractions, start the timing when the uterus begins to tighten. The start of the next tightening is when you can stop timing. Remember to contact your doctor if the contractions come more frequently then every 10 minutes.
Some people are more at risk to have a premature baby then others. Those tend to have one of the following risk factors that have been associated with a higher rate of premature labor:
Premature labor or delivery in a previous pregnancy
Your mother was prescribed DES (Diethylstillbestrol) during her pregnancy to prevent miscarriage. DES has been linked to shortening of the cervix.
Abdominal surgery during pregnancy and/or a stitch in the cervix
More than two second-trimester miscarriages or elective abortions
Previously undergone a cone biopsy or Leep Procedure
Pregnant with multiple babies
History of cervical change and/or excessive uterine contractions at less than 33 weeks in a previous pregnancy
Infection with fever (greater than 101 degrees F) during the pregnancy
Recurring bladder and/or kidney infections
Excessive amount of amniotic fluid
Unexplained vaginal bleeding after 20 weeks of pregnancy
Use of recreational drugs