Are you at risk for premature birth?
We often get questions from women wondering whether they are at risk to have a premature baby. What makes some women give birth early? We don’t always know what causes preterm labor and premature birth. However, there are some things that we do know make it more likely. These things are called risk factors. Having a risk factor doesn’t mean that you will definitely have preterm labor or give birth early. But it may increase your chances.
These three risk factors make you most likely to have preterm labor and give birth early:
1. Prior premature birth: You’ve had a premature baby in the past.
2. Multiples: You’re pregnant with twins, triplets or more.
3. Cervical or uterine problems: Problems with the structure or function of your cervix or uterus.
Some other risk factors include:
Weight: Being underweight or overweight before pregnancy or not gaining enough weight during pregnancy.
Maternal health conditions, including:
o High blood pressure and preeclampsia
o Thrombophilias (blood clotting disorders)
o Certain infections during pregnancy, like a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or other infections of the uterus, urinary tract or vagina.
Smoking: Babies born to women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely than babies born to nonsmokers to be born prematurely.
Stress: High levels of stress that continue for a long time may cause health problems.
Maternal age: Being younger than 17 or older than 35 makes you more likely than other women to give birth early.
Race/ethnicity: We don’t know why race plays a role in premature birth; researchers are working to learn more about it. In the United States, black women are more likely to give birth early, followed by Native American and Hispanic moms.
These are just a few of the risk factors for preterm labor or premature birth. You can see a complete list on our website.
There are some things that ALL women can do to reduce their risk of preterm labor and premature birth:
• Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or take street drugs.
• Make sure you go to all your prenatal care appointments, even if you’re feeling fine. This allows your doctor to detect any problems early.
• Try to get to a healthy weight before your get pregnant. Once you are pregnant, ask your doctor how much weight you should gain.
• Make sure any chronic health conditions are being treated and are under control.
• Protect yourself from infections by washing your hands with soap and water. Know what foods to avoid during pregnancy. Have safe sex. Don’t touch cat feces (waste).
• Try to reduce stress. Make sure you ask for help from family and friends.
• Once you have had your baby, it is best to wait at least 18 to 23 months before getting pregnant again. And make sure you schedule a preconception checkup before your next pregnancy.
If you have concerns about whether you may be at risk for giving birth early, see your health care provider. With guidance and care, you will have a better chance of having a healthy pregnancy.
Have questions? Send them to our health education specialists at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.