Approximately one in every nine babies born in the United States is born prematurely.
Affecting about 450,000 infants nationally each year, preterm birth is a top contributor to long-term neurological disabilities among children. It particularly affects multiples, with one study showing that more than 50 percent of twin births are premature.
Defined as the birth of an infant before 37 weeks of pregnancy, preterm birth can affect every area of a family’s life, including the baby’s health, the mother’s health and the family’s emotional well-being. Parents may struggle with balancing caring for their premature infant with other family or work obligations, and older siblings can often feel confused or left out due to the amount of attention premature infants require.
Am I at Risk?
Risk factors for preterm birth can include:
- Being pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets or more)
- Having a prior history of preterm birth
- Having a short cervix, or a cervix that shortens during the second trimester of pregnancy rather than the third
- Having a short interval between pregnancies
- Lifestyle factors including smoking or substance abuse during pregnancy
- A low pre-pregnancy weight
Other factors such as the mother’s age and ethnicity, as well as her socioeconomic status and access to prenatal care, can also play a role in her risk for going into preterm labor.
Despite the prevalence of prematurity, many Americans aren’t aware of how often premature birth happens or the serious health problems it can cause. Campaigns aimed at raising awareness include World Prematurity Day (observed on Nov. 17 each year) and the March of Dimes Prematurity campaign.
It’s important for all of us to be aware of the risk factors for and consequences of preterm birth—and to know that working with a healthcare provider during pregnancy can help reduce these risks. So spread the word!