For any expectant mother the idea of having our baby born prematurely is pretty terrifying. Particularly when the usual images we see of premature babies include them hooked up to a million tubes, wires, and other life-saving machines and eighty-five percent of neonatal morbidity and mortality is a result of premature birth. We hear about family or friends giving birth too soon and all the medical issues their babies face, if they are lucky enough to survive, even throughout their adolescent years.
Even in the last weeks of pregnancy when most of us are chomping at the bit to finally hold our sweet babies, we want to ensure that they are healthy and completely ready for the outside world before they make their grand entrance. Unfortunately the issue of premature birth is on the rise in the United States, with about 1 in 10 babies being born preterm (before 37 weeks gestation) in 2015. With numbers like that you would think prematurity would be difficult to prevent but the fact is many of the causes of premature birth are preventable, if you take the time to understand them.
Premature labor and birth have a number of causes including, but not limited to, preeclampsia, infections, placenta previa (when the placenta is partially or fully covering the opening of the cervix), premature rupture of membranes, intrauterine growth restriction, placental abruption (placenta detaches from the uterine wall before baby is born causing hemorrhage), scheduled cesarean, induced labor, genetic factors, social factors, and more . Lets take a deeper look at some of these issues and try to understand more about the root cause of the problem.
Many women don’t realize how huge a roll nutrition plays in keeping both mom and baby healthy during pregnancy. Society has trained us to hear the word pregnant and associate it with big-bellied women lounging on the couch for 9 months surrounded by gallons of melty ice cream and jars of pickles. Pregnancy may bring about it’s odd cravings, which we shouldn’t be afraid to indulge in from time to time, but maintaining a well-balanced, well-hydrated, high protein diet is one of the best ways to stay healthy and avoid some of these common cause of premature birth. Adequate nutrition and hydration helps boost the immune system (preventing infection and strengthening the placenta), prevents dehydration, supports the liver’s production of albumin and the body’s expanding blood volume (preventing preeclampsia), and supplies the body with enough nutrients to support the full-term pregnancy our bodies and babies need. The Brewer pregnancy diet provides a solid, well-balanced look at prenatal nutrition that has been proven to reduce and even eliminate some of these issues. If you’re still concerned that you’re not getting the right prenatal nutrition consider speaking with a nutritionalist or having a longer discussion with your OB or midwife.
Pushy Doctors, Misinformation, and Convenience Births
We live in a fast-paced, “I need it now”, instant gratification world. We see it all around us with texting, instant streaming, overnight shipping, fast food restaurants, and an plethora of fad diets and body wraps that guarantee immediate results with minimal work. Sadly, the nation’s gestational timeline has also been effected by this same mentality and, as a result, more and more babies are being born too early. You hear stories day in and day out of doctors who are encouraging mothers to induce or schedule cesareans at 38 weeks because the baby looks big on an ultrasound. A large number of those babies then come into the world with respiratory issues that require intubation and NICU time, extremely low birth weights, and high levels of jaundice from being born before their livers were fully developed. Scary stuff to deal with just to avoid having a baby that’s too big according to an scan that is often wrong about baby’s birth weight (around 1/3 of the time in fact).
There has also been an increase in the so-called “designer birth” where cesareans and inductions are being scheduled for pure convenience because it fits best with a family’s work or vacation plans. We must always remember that our babies develop at varying rates, just like children outside of the womb do, and only their bodies know when they are are fully developed and ready to be born. Let nature take its course!
Social Factors and Lifestyle Choices
Social issues like poverty and abuse within the home also play a role in the growing number of preterm births. With poverty often comes malnutrition and inadequate prenatal care and any form of abuse that puts mother and baby at risk can easily lead to a baby being born too soon. These types of issues need to be addressed on a larger scale but other factors like the lifestyle choices of smoking, drug use, and drinking while pregnant are much simpler to avoid. Finding help and removing the toxins of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol from your system and your baby’s system will put you one step closer to avoiding a premature birth.
For additional concerns on premature birth, speak with your OB or Midwife and to find our what your state’s 2015 premature birth report card is by visiting March of Dimes.
*I am a certified natural childbirth educator, not a medical professional. These statements are from my own experience, training, and research, as well as based on medical studies and reports.