Did you know that prematurity is a leading cause of infant morbidity and mortality in the US? In fact, about 12% of all babies in the US—roughly 500,000—are born preterm each year. According to the March of Dimes, there is some hopeful news: Preterm birth rates improved in nearly every state between 2006–2009.
A pregnancy is considered full term at 40 weeks. Any birth before 37 weeks gestation is considered premature. In the majority of premature births, preterm labor starts spontaneously. In other cases, the baby is delivered early because of health problems with the mother or the baby, or both, and it’s safer to get the baby out. Additionally, women should not be induced or delivered by cesarean before 39 weeks gestation unless there is a medical indication.
Preterm babies have a high risk of serious problems with their vision, hearing, breathing, and nervous system development. Sadly, some don’t survive. Unfortunately, despite the advances in medicine, we don’t yet know what causes preterm labor nor can we prevent most preterm births.
If you have uterine contractions, vaginal bleeding or discharge, leaking amniotic fluid, pelvic pressure, mild abdominal cramps, or any unusual symptoms before 37 weeks of pregnancy, call your obstetrician. Medication can help your baby’s lung development if preterm labor is caught in time.
We continue educating physicians and patients about this national problem and are committed to finding ways to reduce preterm births.