How to Lower the Risk of Premature Birth

Risk of Premature Birth

Premature birth is a serious and common complication of pregnancy that affects about 10% of all births worldwide. Premature birth means that a baby is born before 37 weeks of gestation, which is the normal duration of pregnancy. Premature babies often face many health challenges, such as breathing difficulties, bleeding in the brain, infections, and developmental delays. Premature birth can also have long-term consequences for the mother, such as increased risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

While some causes of premature birth are unknown or unavoidable, many factors can increase or decrease the risk of having a preterm delivery. In this article, we will discuss some of the most effective ways to lower the risk of premature birth, based on scientific evidence and expert advice.

What are the risk factors for premature birth?

Many factors can increase the risk of premature birth, some of which are modifiable and some of which are not. Some of the non-modifiable risk factors are:

  • Having a previous history of premature birth
  • Having a multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets, etc.)
  • Having a congenital anomaly or genetic disorder in the baby
  • Having a short cervix or an incompetent cervix
  • Having a uterine malformation or a placental abnormality
  • Having a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or autoimmune disease
  • Having an infection, such as a urinary tract infection, sexually transmitted infection, or periodontal disease
  • Being under 17 or over 35 years old
  • Being of African American or Hispanic ethnicity

Some of the modifiable risk factors are:

  • Smoking, drinking alcohol, or using illicit drugs during pregnancy
  • Having a poor diet or being underweight or overweight
  • Having a high level of stress or anxiety
  • Having a history of abortion or miscarriage
  • Having a short interval between pregnancies (less than 18 months)
  • Having a physically demanding or stressful job
  • Having a history of domestic violence or abuse
  • Having a lack of prenatal care or education

How to lower the risk of premature birth?

While some risk factors for premature birth are beyond your control, there are many things you can do to lower your risk and have a healthy pregnancy and baby. Some of the most effective ways to lower the risk of premature birth are:

  • Quit smoking, drinking, or using drugs. These substances can harm your baby’s development and increase the risk of premature birth, as well as other complications, such as low birth weight, birth defects, and sudden infant death syndrome. If you need help to quit, talk to your doctor or a counselor, and join a support group or a program that can help you.
  • Eat a balanced and nutritious diet. Eating well can provide you and your baby with the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are needed for a healthy pregnancy and growth. You should eat a variety of foods from all the food groups, especially fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products. You should also avoid foods that may trigger premature labor, such as spicy foods, pineapple, papaya, and licorice. You can also take supplements that may help prevent premature birth, such as folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics.
  • Gain a healthy amount of weight. Gaining too much or too little weight during pregnancy can increase the risk of premature birth, as well as other problems, such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and fetal growth restriction. You should follow the weight gain guidelines that are recommended by your doctor, based on your pre-pregnancy weight and body mass index (BMI). In general, you should gain about 25 to 35 pounds if you have a normal BMI, 15 to 25 pounds if you are overweight, and 11 to 20 pounds if you are obese.
  • Stay hydrated and avoid caffeine. Drinking enough water and fluids can help prevent dehydration, which can cause contractions and premature labor. You should drink at least eight glasses of water a day, and more if you exercise or live in a hot climate. You should also limit your intake of caffeine, which can dehydrate you and increase your blood pressure and heart rate. Caffeine can also cross the placenta and affect your baby’s development and sleep. You should limit your caffeine intake to no more than 200 milligrams a day, which is equivalent to about two cups of coffee.
  • Exercise regularly and moderately. Physical activity can help prevent premature birth by improving your blood circulation, reducing stress, and strengthening your muscles and joints. Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight, prevent gestational diabetes, and prepare your body for labor and delivery. You should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week unless your doctor advises otherwise. Some of the safe and beneficial exercises for pregnant women are walking, swimming, cycling, yoga, and pilates. You should avoid exercises that involve high impact, jumping, twisting, or lying on your back.
  • Manage your stress and emotions. Stress can trigger the release of hormones that can cause contractions and premature labor. Stress can also affect your immune system, blood pressure, and blood sugar, and increase the risk of infections and complications. Therefore, you should try to reduce your stress level and cope with your emotions in healthy ways. You can use various techniques to manage stress, such as relaxation, meditation, breathing exercises, massage, aromatherapy, music, or art. You can also talk to your partner, family, friends, or a counselor, and join a support group or a class that can help you.
  • Get regular and adequate prenatal care. Prenatal care is essential for preventing and detecting any problems that may increase the risk of premature birth, such as infections, anemia, high blood pressure, or fetal growth restriction. You should see your doctor or midwife regularly throughout your pregnancy, and follow their advice and recommendations. You should also get the necessary tests and screenings, such as blood tests, urine tests, ultrasounds, and fetal monitoring, to check your health and your baby’s development. You should also take any medications that are prescribed by your doctor, such as antibiotics, antihypertensives, or progesterone.
  • Watch for the signs and symptoms of premature labor. Premature labor can happen without any warning, but sometimes some signs and symptoms can alert you to seek medical attention. Some of the signs and symptoms of premature labor are:
    • Regular contractions that occur every 10 minutes or more often, and do not stop or ease with rest or hydration
    • Cramps or pressure in the lower abdomen or back, similar to menstrual cramps
    • A change in vaginal discharge, such as an increased amount, of watery, bloody, or mucus-like
    • A feeling that the baby is pushing down or dropping lower in the pelvis
    • A rupture of the membranes, or a gush or trickle of fluid from the vagina
    • Bleeding from the vagina
    • A fever or chills
    • A decrease or change in the baby’s movements

If you experience any of these signs and symptoms, you should call your doctor or midwife, or go to the hospital right away. Do not wait or ignore them, as they may indicate that you are in labor or have an infection or complication that needs immediate treatment.

Conclusion

Premature birth is a serious and common complication of pregnancy that can have lasting effects on the mother and the baby. While some causes of premature birth are unknown or unavoidable, there are many ways to lower the risk of having a preterm delivery. By following the tips and strategies discussed in this article, you can improve your chances of having a full-term and healthy pregnancy and baby.

References

1Preterm birth – World Health Organization 2Premature birth – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic 3Nutrition and Lifestyle in Pregnancy – NCBI Bookshelf 4How you can reduce your risk of premature birth | Tommy’s 5Weight Gain During Pregnancy – ACOG: Caffeine Intake During Pregnancy – American Pregnancy Association: Exercise During Pregnancy – ACOG: Prenatal Care – ACOG: Treatments to Prevent Premature Birth (for Parents) – KidsHealth