Prematurity Awareness Month and the Fight to Reduce Preterm Births

Around one out of every 10 births in the United States is a preterm birth, meaning that it occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm births increase the risk of infant death and disability, and could potentially lead to feeding problems, breathing problems, cerebral palsy, vision and hearing problems, and developmental delay.

Preterm births can take a terrible toll on an infant and the infant’s family. The good news is that the risk for a preterm birth can be greatly reduced by expectant parents, which is why observing Prematurity Awareness Month is so important. Prematurity Awareness Month is observed every November and it provides a great opportunity to focus on educating people about what they can do to reduce preterm births.

Factors Contributing to Preterm Births

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a few contributing factors of preterm births, ranging from behavioral factors to medical conditions. Here are just a few:

  • Alcohol and tobacco use
  • Substance abuse
  • Stress
  • Late prenatal care
  • Low or high maternal age
  • Poverty
  • Previous preterm births
  • Infections
  • High blood pressure during pregnancy.

Potential Warning Signs for Premature Births

Many preterm births occur without warning, with causes that are not always entirely clear. However, there are a few signs that expectant parents and healthcare providers can look for. The CDC says these signs include:

  • Contractions every 10 minutes or more frequently
  • Change in vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pressure
  • Low, dull backache
  • Cramps that feel like a menstrual period
  • Abdominal cramps that occur with or without diarrhea.

Reducing Premature Births

The efforts to reduce the occurrence of preterm births have included many parents, non-profit organizations, advocates and businesses. The March of Dimes has been instrumental in bringing attention to this important topic, launching the Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait Initiative to promote education and awareness, hospital quality improvement and community intervention programs.

While mothers can do their part to ensure the timely birth of a child by quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol and other substances, the task does not fall on expectant mothers alone. Hospitals can always look for ways to improve their prenatal care, and communities can provide resources and assistance to pregnant women. It’s this coordinated, collaborative effort that has played a key role in reducing the rate of preterm births.

The Impact of Preterm Births

  • Premature births inflict healthcare costs of around $26 billion dollars in the United States every year, according to the Institute of Medicine.
  • Children who were born prematurely are more likely to suffer behavioral and learning problems.
  • Approximately one-third of children born prematurely will require special school services at some point in their lives.
  • The problems associated with premature births aren’t just limited to children. Even as adults, people can experience long-term health problems that impact their quality of life and ability to work.

It will take a collective effort and increased awareness to reduce preterm births in our country. There is still much work to be done. Find out more about premature births, including ways that you can get involved, by checking out the March of Dimes website.