November is Prematurity Awareness Month

Prematurity Awareness Month

Premature birth affects many families; in fact, the World Health Organization claims that worldwide, 1 in 10 babies are born prematurely (and in the U.S., it’s 1 in 8.) Chances are that a number of our Baby Sleep Site™ readers have been touched by this medical complication.

What is Premature Birth, and Why Is It So Dangerous?

A baby born before 37 weeks is considered premature. While prematurity might not seem like a life-threatening medical issue, research indicates that it is. In fact, premature birth is the second leading cause of death among newborns worldwide, after pneumonia.

Dr. Joy Lawn, co-author of the Born Too Soon study, a study on premature birth trends worldwide, had this to say:

“Being born to soon is an unrecognized killer. There has been much progress in penumonia [treatment and prevention], and diarrhea as a cause of death has seen a major drop, but preterm birth as not been on anyone’s ‘to do’ list.”

Preterm birth can cause many different kinds of life-threatening complications for newborns. Respiratory issues like apnea are common among premature babies; so are heart and brain development issues, jaundice, anemia, and infection.

Those babies who do survive premature birth are at greater risk for developing long-term, permanent complications as a result of being born too early. Those complications include permanent vision and hearing loss, chronic lung problems, cerebral palsy, and autism.

Who Is Affected By Premature Birth?

Premature birth is a global epidemic, according to new research. It affects pregnant mothers of every color and creed, in every country around the world. Both underdeveloped and developed nations are at risk.

While women in every country around the world are at risk for preterm birth, the rates of newborn survival after premature birth vary greatly from country to country. In developed nations, like the United States, for example, only about 10% of premature babies die as a result of their preterm birth. In underdeveloped nations, however, the rates can be much higher — as high as 90%.

This huge difference is a result of unequal access to quality medical care; babies born in developed nations are more likely to have higher quality medical care, while babies born in developing nations don’t. Those babies are far more likely to die of infection and malnutrition.

What Causes Premature Birth?

The answer to this question isn’t as straightforward as you might think. Truth is, it depends on where you live.

In underdeveloped countries, premature birth is often caused by infection and disease. In developed nations, however, the causes are radically different. In developed countries like the U.S., preterm birth has been linked to obesity, by older age in mothers, and by pregnancy with multiples due to fertility treatments.

Some risk factors depend on a mother’s location; others don’t. Stress, for example, crosses geographic and socioeconomic lines, and high levels of stress put a mother at risk for preterm delivery.

Overall, factors that contribute to premature birth include:

  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Drug and alcohol use during pregnancy
  • Poor prenatal care
  • Poor nutrition
  • Physical abnormalities of uterus
  • Pregnancy with multiples
  • High stress levels
  • Obesity and obesity-related conditions (high blood pressure)
  • Being underweight
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple miscarriages or abortions
  • Increased age of mother
  • Infection
  • Social factors related to mother (poverty, lack of education, etc.)
  • Early Cesarean sections

Can Premature Birth Be Prevented?

Some of the factors listed above can’t be prevented. You can’t alter your age, for example, and you can’t change your medical history.

However, a number of those factors can be prevented. In order to give your baby the best chance at being born full-term, do the following:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a healthy diet during your pregnancy, and seek proper prenatal care.
  • During your pregnancy, don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs.
  • During your pregnancy, report any illnesses or signs of infection to your healthcare provider immediately.
  • Work to keep your stress level low (easier said than done, we know!)

Sometimes, however, even the best measured of prevention don’t ward off preterm labor. In these cases, it’s best if a woman knows the signs of early labor and seeks medical care right away. Signs of preterm labor include:

  • Five or more contractions in an hour
  • Watery fluid leaking from your vagina (could indicate that your water has broken)
  • Menstrual-like cramps that come and go
  • Dull pain in your lower back
  • Pelvic pressure
  • Increase or change in vaginal discharge

If you experience any of these symptoms, do the following:

  • Empty your bladder.
  • Lie on your left side. (Don’t lie flat on your back; this can make contractions worse.)
  • Drink several glasses of water (dehydration can cause contractions.)
  • Monitor your contractions for one hour to see if they go away.

If the steps above don’t reduce your symptoms of pre-term labor, seek medical attention right away. Doctors can administer magnesium sulfate, a medication that can stop preterm labor.

What Can I Do To Help?

There are a number of organizations worldwide that work to spread the word and educate families about the risks of premature birth, and about steps that pregnancy mothers can take to prevent preterm birth.

One such organization is the March of Dimes. Donations made to organizations like these help children and families around the world receive the education and care they need to ensure healthy lives.

Have you been affected by premature birth? Share your story below!

November is Prematurity Awareness Month

Premature Awareness MonthLast year, I wrote about World Prematurity Awareness Day and how it just didn’t seem like it was near enough to raise the level of awareness needed about premature births. In the US, the entire month of November is dedicated to being Prematurity Awareness Month. For the entire month of November, the March of Dimes will work to help the nation to focus it’s attention on premature births. The March of Dimes launched the Prematurity Awareness Campaign in 2003 and since then they have made significant strides in raising awareness about premature births and in working towards reducing the rate of premature births but there is still a long way to go. Recent news reports that the premature birth rate is down slightly to 12.2% but still quite far from the March of Dimes goal of 9.6% by the year 2020.

Premature Birth Facts:

  • 1 in 8 babies are born prematurely in the United States
  • Worldwide, 13 million babies are born prematurely
  • Premature births are the number on killer of babies
  • Premature babies are at risk for severe health problems and lifelong disabilities.

As part of National Prematurity Awareness Month, The March of Dimes has released 2011 Premature Birth Report Cards by State. Overall the United States has a grade of “C” when it comes to preventing premature births. You can click here to view the map to see how your state ranks for preventing premature births. It’s rather alarming that we only have one state with a grade of “A” and four states have a grade of “F.” Clearly, much more still needs to be done towards working to prevent premature births in the United States.

November 17th is World Prematurity Awareness Day. World Prematurity Day is set aside as one way to honor the million babies who die each year from being born too soon along with 12 million who struggle to survive. See inspiring stories and get updates on Facebook by joining the World Prematurity Day Facebook page.

How you can help:

How will you help to raise awareness about premature births?

Why Prematurity Awareness Can’t Even Get a Day

premature developmentLast Wednesday, November 17th, I turned 37 years old, where I will remain for the next 10 years. 😉 Last Wednesday was also Prematurity Awareness Day. Yes, you read that right. It was Prematurity Awareness Day. Unfortunately, one day is not enough to raise awareness about this very important topic. Actually, not even a month, but here’s why it can barely even get a day.

Sadly, over half a million babies will be born premature every year in the United States alone and 40% will be for unknown reasons. This will affect a premature baby’s development (sleep-wise and otherwise) and, often, her health. Sometimes it’s even fatal. :(

You would think that with that many babies born prematurely, we would have heard a lot more about prematurity awareness this month. But, we didn’t. I finally received this link on Facebook, because a few of my “Facebook friends” have had premature babies.

So, why can’t Prematurity Awareness even get a day?

First, take a look at this list of “special months”: List of Special Months. I mean, really? January is California Dried Plum Digestive Health Month and National Hot Tea Month? February is Weddings Month? Isn’t the most popular month for a wedding in the summer? March is Sing with Your Child Month? I mean, shouldn’t we sing with our kids all the time? May is Good Car-Keeping Month? Huh?

Now, I don’t want to offend anyone if you are passionate about some of these special months, but it seems like all of these different “special months” dilute efforts that can be made on topics such as Prematurity Awareness, which will save lives.

Second, although 500,000 babies being born premature is a lot of babies, it’s “only” 12.5% of babies (there are over 4 million born per year in the U.S.), so not as many parents are directly affected by it (which is good), which makes eduction on the subject harder and it’s harder to make people listen. When it comes to other causes like Breast Cancer Awareness, many people have been touched one way or another by it: a grandmother, mother, wife, aunt, sister (like mine who died from it the year I got married), daughter, friend, or co-worker, to name a few.

As my friend said, being in the NICU is not for the faint of heart and losing a baby must be one of the hardest things a person can go through. Yes, losing my sister was hard, but a baby that you carried for months in your womb, whom you thought you’d watch grow older and give you grandchildren one day? I can’t even fathom it. Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB/GYN, mother of preemies, and writer, says

“…I am really interested in promoting awareness, because before I delivered three premature babies and after 3 months in the NICU brought only two boys home from the hospital I had no idea prematurity was as terrible as it really is. I mean I knew it a happened a lot, I delivered many premature babies myself, but I never really appreciated the magnitude of the problem. I never appreciated the devastation. For us, the NICU stay was like a marathon through hell, but just when we got home we realized that those first 26.2 miles were just the warm up because surprise, we’re really signed up for an ultra-marathon in hell. Parting gifts include cerebral palsy and bronchopulmonary dysplasia.”

You can imagine that if it was hard for an OB/GYN, who saw a lot of premature babies born, to grasp the magnitude of the problem, that it needs a lot of education to the ill-informed. Even though I’ve never personally experienced the birth of a premature baby, and even though you may not have a premature baby, wouldn’t it be something if we could help another parent who did/does? Sometimes, even if it hasn’t touched our own lives, we still need to act, not for us, but for the babies, many of whom who will go on to have health problems from their premature birth. At minimum, we can raise awareness and reduce the number of premature births. After all, if it did happen to you, wouldn’t you want to feel less alone?

Lastly, I know how hard it is to actually get your voice heard. Building this website has given me first-hand knowledge about how difficult it really can be to a) Get Google to find you (we are now over 80,000 visits per month! Yeah!), b) Get people to stay and read (average is 2 minutes), c) Get people to open e-mails (why the link to this article went in my newsletter titled “How Thanksgiving Will Affect Your Baby’s Sleep” and nothing to do with prematurity), and d) Get people to act (click on a link, forward to a friend, etc.). So, in order for Prematurity Awareness to get the attention it deserves, it will take marketing, educating, and people sharing/acting. I don’t know who “organizes” all of these special months, but without a force behind it, the news stories won’t cover it, there won’t be ribbons to pin on our shirts, or “races for the cure.” It will continue to be just another item on the list of special months.

How you can help:

  • Learn the causes of premature births, so you can educate not only yourself, but your friends, families, coworkers, and anyone who will listen.
  • Learn that you can reduce your risks by getting prenatal care, spreading out your births by 18 months (if your first was a preemie), and talk to your doctor about progesterone supplements.
  • Share this on Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail the link, so other people know it’s Prematurity Awareness Day Month.
  • Consider a donation to March of Dimes

If you are a parent of a preemie, here are a couple of resources:

So, tell me. Will you help this cause stand out among the endless list of “special months” by sharing this article and your new found knowledge?

Prematurity Awareness Month

Babies PrematureNovember is March of Dimes Prematurity Awareness Month! Many babies (roughly 1,400 per day!) are born premature in the U.S. alone and unfortunately, the numbers are increasing rather than decreasing. Please take a moment to learn more about prematurity and what you can do in pregnancy to reduce your risks by reading When Babies Are Born Premature on the Babble Soft website this week. You can also read about premature development and your baby’s sleep here on this site. Please also consider forwarding the information to friends and family as you can save a life of two sharing the knowledge! Thank you for doing your part in this very important matter.