(BPT) - November is World Prematurity Awareness Month. Preterm birth continues to be a public health concern in the United States and in many other countries around the world. In the United States, preterm birth is more common than you may think: approximately one in 10 babies is born premature. Preterm birth can prevent growth and development from happening during the final weeks of pregnancy, which is why staying pregnant to full term, or 40 weeks, is one of the best ways to give babies the time they need to grow.
Even if a woman does everything 'right' during pregnancy, she can still have a premature baby. While the healthcare community is continuously working to better understand the causes of premature birth, there are certain known risk factors that make some women more at risk than others.
If you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, here's what you need to know about risk factors for preterm birth:
1. Previous, unexpected preterm birth <37 weeks or more than 3 weeks prior to your due date
If you've had a baby early already, you may not realize that you are at risk for having another baby early. Women who have previously delivered a baby preterm - before 37 weeks or more than three weeks prior to the due date - are at risk for having another preterm birth. And, the earlier in gestation a baby is born and the more spontaneous preterm births a woman has had, the higher the risk. Visit GrowthYouCantSee.com to hear from Toiya, a mom who gave birth early during her first pregnancy and discovered she was at risk for another preterm birth. You can also find out more about the important growth that happens during the final weeks of pregnancy.
2. African American heritage
On average, African American women are about 60 percent more likely to have a premature baby compared to Caucasian women. The reasons for this difference are not fully understood. Visit GrowthYouCantSee.com for a helpful checklist of risk factors and sample questions to guide a conversation about potential risks with your healthcare provider.
3. Twins, triples, or other multiples
If you are pregnant with multiples including twins, triplets or more, you are at higher risk for preterm birth.
4. Smoking, drinking alcohol, or using drugs
Lifestyle choices directly impact the health of a growing baby, and certain habits can cause lifelong health problems for a baby. Smoking, drinking alcohol, and using illegal drugs can restrict a baby's growth and increase the chances for preterm birth. Avoid these substances. If you need help to quit, talk with your healthcare provider.
Bringing a baby into the world is no easy task. Pregnancy can be nerve-wracking, and it's perfectly normal to feel stressed. However, too much stress can cause health problems and increase a woman's chances for preterm birth. Taking care of your emotional health by learning to manage stress makes for a healthier pregnancy and is an essential part of taking care of your baby.
You can take steps to help reduce the chances of your baby being born prematurely. To learn more about preterm birth and associated risk factors, the signs and symptoms of preterm labor, as well as more information about the important developments during the last weeks of a full-term pregnancy, visit GrowthYouCantSee.com.