For the second year in a row, the preterm birth rate in the United States has gone up. Preterm birth is when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. According to a preliminary report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the preterm birth rate rose to 9.84% in 2016, up 2% from 9.63% in 2015.
After seven years of a steady decline in the preterm birth rate, this increase is alarming.
Reduce your risk
We don’t know why this is happening. But we do know that there are some things a woman can do to help reduce her chance of giving birth too soon. Here are some of them:
- See your prenatal care provider as soon as you think you’re pregnant. And go to all of your prenatal care appointments. Go even if you’re feeling fine. Prenatal care helps your provider make sure you and your baby are healthy.
- Don’t smoke, drink alcohol, use street drugs or abuse prescription drugs. Ask your provider about programs in your area that can help you quit.
- Talk to your provider about your weight. Ask how much weight you should gain during pregnancy. Try to get to a healthy weight before your next pregnancy.
- Get treated for chronic health conditions, like high blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid problems.
- Protect yourself from infections. Wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom, caring for small children, or blowing your nose. Don’t eat raw meat or fish. Have safe sex. Don’t touch cat poop.
- Reduce your stress. Exercise and eat healthy foods. Ask for help from family and friends. Get help if your partner abuses you. Talk to your boss about how to lower your stress at work.
- Wait at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again. See your provider for a preconception checkup before your next pregnancy.
Know the signs
- Change in your vaginal discharge (watery, mucus or bloody) or more vaginal discharge than usual
- Pressure in your pelvis or lower belly, like your baby is pushing down
- Constant low, dull backache
- Belly cramps with or without diarrhea
- Regular or frequent contractions that make your belly tighten like a fist. The contractions may or may not be painful.
- Your water breaks
If you think you’re having preterm labor, call your provider. Call even if you have just one sign or symptom. There are several treatments that may help slow or stop preterm labor. And there are treatments, like antenatal corticosteroids (also called ACS), that can help reduce your baby’s chances for having health problems (like lung problems) in case he’s born early.