Did you know that November is Prematurity Awareness Month? Every year, organizations like the March of Dimes spend November campaigning for greater awareness of and support for the millions of people and families all around the world who are affected by preterm birth, which is defined as birth than occurs before 37 weeks. Some of the activities and events led by the March of Dimes during the month include the release of the annual Premature Birth Report Card (which grades US states and countries around the world on their rates of preterm birth), summits and conferences, supportive community gatherings in NICUs, and numerous fundraising initiatives.
Prematurity Awareness Month is an important annual event because, despite the fact that many health experts have described preterm birth as a national health crisis, most people have little knowledge about prematurity and how it impacts babies, families, and society in general. To boost your understanding of preterm birth in commemoration of Prematurity Awareness Month, read on for a look at six important prematurity facts.
Preterm birth is more prevalent than you might think.
If you think that preterm birth doesn’t happen often, it’s time to think again. In the United States, about one in every 10 babies is born prematurely every year: this means that more than 380,000 babies a year face the challenges and complications associated with preterm birth, including the chance that they will not survive to their first birthday, or that they will deal with disabilities or chronic health conditions throughout their lives. More shocking still is the fact that the US preterm birth rate is actually rising. In 2015, the rate was 9.6%; in 2016, it grew to 9.8%; and data currently being compiled for 2017 suggests that the rate is poised to increase for a third consecutive year.
Premature birth can lead to long-term health problems.
While many preterm babies go on to develop normally and lead healthy lives, many others will face serious health issues in both the short and long term. Some of the health conditions that are associated with premature birth include lung conditions like asthma or bronchopulmonary dysplasia (a chronic lung disease in which the lungs grow abnormally or become inflamed); intestinal problems that may require surgery and/or lead to intestinal scarring; infections like pneumonia or meningitis; vision problems; and hearing loss. In addition, premature birth can result in long-term intellectual and developmental disabilities, which may cause difficulty or delays with physical development, learning, communication, and social behaviors.
Several factors can increase the risk of premature birth.
Research into premature birth is ongoing, but experts still don’t know for sure what causes preterm births to happen. However, there are some risk factors that have been associated with a higher likelihood of premature birth. According to March of Dimes, women are more likely to have preterm labor and to give birth early if they have previously had a premature baby; if they are carrying multiple babies (twins, triplets, or more); or if they currently have or have previously had any problems with their uterus or cervix. In addition, medical risk factors for preterm birth include a family history of premature birth; being underweight or overweight before becoming pregnant; getting pregnant again too soon after giving birth; and having health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.
There are things you can do to reduce the risk of preterm birth…
Although it’s not possible to change many of the risk factors mentioned above, there are other “daily life” risk factors that women can do something about in order to reduce the chances of giving birth prematurely. Many of these actions are associated with an overall healthy lifestyle, such as maintaining a healthy weight before and during pregnancy; avoiding smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy; seeking treatment for chronic health conditions; minimizing stress; eating nutritious food; and staying physically active.
…but ultimately, premature labor and birth can happen to anyone.
One of the most emotionally challenging aspects of preterm birth is that women who give birth early often feel like they’ve done something wrong, or that it’s their fault that their baby is premature. However, it’s important for everyone to understand that preterm labor and birth can happen to anyone, even in situations where few or no risk factors are present.
Premature birth doesn’t just affect individuals and families.
Preterm birth isn’t just a challenge for the families of premature babies: it’s also a significant issue for the health care industry, for employers, and for society as a whole. For example, the National Academy of Medicine estimates that, beyond its human impact, preterm birth accounts for over $26 billion in avoidable medical and societal costs every year. Similarly, according to March of Dimes, care for childbirth and newborns already makes up a significant part of employers’ health insurance costs, but it’s estimated that employers pay up to 12 times more when babies are born premature than when they are born without complications.