Prematurity Awareness

Posted by

Alicia Amsberry, PT, DPT

Time to read

3 minutes

Each year 15 million babies are born premature worldwide.

1 in 10 babies are born premature in the United States. 


What is preterm labor and premature birth?

Normal pregnancy lasts between 37-40 weeks, from the start of the last menstrual period. Preterm labor is labor that starts before 37 weeks of pregnancy.  When babies are born this early they are consider premature. Premature labor and premature birth can cause health problems at birth and in life. 


What causes preterm labor and premature birth?

Any woman can have preterm labor, even if she has done everything right in her pregnancy. For some women they are unsure what causes the preterm labor and for others there are things that will cause them to be more likely to have preterm labor. 

Having a risk factor doesn’t necessarily mean you will have preterm labor or a premature birth. It means you are more likely or at an increased risk of having preterm labor. 


What are the risk factors for preterm labor and premature birth?

  • You have problems with your uterus or cervix now or you’ve had them in the past.
  • Domestic violence 
  • You’ve had a premature baby in the past.
  • Being single
  • You’re pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets, or more).
  • Late or no prenatal care.
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol, using drugs
  • Being pregnant with a baby who has certain birth defects (congenital heart defects or spina bifida).
  • Working long hours or having to stand a lot 
  • Being underweight or overweight before pregnancy.
  • Not gaining enough weight during pregnancy. 
  • Having a family history of premature birth
  • Having certain health conditions: high blood pressure, diabetes, preeclampsia
  • Getting pregnant too
    soon after having a baby. 
  • Having a lot of stress

How can you reduce the risk for preterm labor and premature birth?

You can reduce the risk of preterm labor and premature birth for some of the above listed risk factors, however not all can be prevented. Below is a list of things you can do to reduce your risk.

  • Get treated for chronic health conditions (high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.)
  • Stop or don’t smoke, drink alcohol, and/or use drugs.
  • Talk to your doctor about your weight. 
  • Attend your prenatal care appointment as soon as you think you are pregnant. 
  • Reduce stress.
  • Wait at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again.
  • Protect yourself from infections. 


What are common signs of preterm labor?

  • Low, dull backache
  • Contractions
  • Belly cramps with or without diarrhea
  • Pelvic pressure
  • Change in vaginal discharge

What are treatment options for preterm labor and premature birth?

  • Medicines
    • Tocolytics – slow or stop labor
    • Antenatal Corticosteroids – speed up lung development, reduce health problems after birth, 
    • Antibiotics – kill infections caused by bacteria 
  • Progesterone – help prevent premature birth 
  • Bed rest – may help with delaying labor, however providers are unsure if this can help
  • Cerclage – a stitch that your doctor will put in your cervix to help keep it closed


What are common birth defects and other health conditions seen in premature babies?

Birth defects are health conditions that are sustained at birth. These include cleft lip or cleft palate, heart defects, and spina bifida. Other health conditions seen in premature babies include:

  • Hyperbilirubinemia 
  • Anemia
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Club foot
  • Hearing loss
  • Apnea 
  • Down syndrome
  • Organic and metabolism disorders
  • Low blood pressure 
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Tay-Sachs
  • Marfan Syndrome
  • Autism 

*This is not a complete list of possible birth defects and health conditions that could be present in premature births. Please see resource links below to find out more. 


What is March of Dimes?

March of Dimes is an organization that “works towards improving the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality.” They conduct research on prevention, treatment, ways to decrease prematurity and infant mortality. 

They have a few programs to provide information and raise awareness for this cause. These include:

  • Premature Campaign 
  • Health Babies are Worth the Wait
  • Prematurity Awareness Month 

*More information can be found at March of Dimes, see resources below.



March of Dimes:

Kids Health:

Hand to Hold: