November is Prematurity Awareness Month. Prematurity and its complications are the leading cause of death in children younger than 5 in the world today. Infants born before 37 weeks gestation have more complications than full-term babies, including problems with feeding and digestion, vision and hearing, and breathing.
Each November, the March of Dimes publishes a Premature Birth Report Card, which grades the U.S. and each state individually on prematurity rates for the previous year. The goal is to be at 8.1 percent, an objective set by the Healthy People 2020 initiative, a science-based, 10-year program to improve the health of all Americans. This year, the U.S. has a rate of 9.6 percent and earns a C letter grade. Kentucky’s rate is 10.7 percent, which unfortunately gives our state a D.
It is clear that there is room for improvement within our state and country. And while some risks for premature birth cannot be avoided, there are things you can do to help prevent a preterm birth. Here are a few tips:
- Stop smoking, or cut down to less than a half-pack per day. We know that smoking contributes to preterm birth, and a baby who lives in a house with smokers is also 3.5 times more likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome than a baby who doesn’t.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Get prenatal care. It does make a difference.
- Practice oral hygiene and see your dentist: oral infections can lead to systemic infections that can cause preterm labor.
- Practice stress reduction. Be aware of how you are handling stress and get sufficient exercise and rest to help get you ready for your new family member.
We don’t know why some babies come early, but we do know the above methods can help prevent it. Delivering at full term will help your baby be healthier, stronger and avoid the complications that come with preterm birth.