To witness the birth of a child is our best opportunity to experience the meaning of the word miracle.
Since the day you found out you were pregnant, you have read everything there is to read about safe pregnancies and baby care. You have planned your nursery and selected a list of favourite names. You are, in a nutshell, prepared. One thing you have probably not prepared for is the possibility of giving birth prematurely. Most of us are, understandably, comforted by the security of an ‘it will never happen to me’ attitude. But it does happen, and knowing the facts can make the experience a lot less traumatic.
Why do premature births occur?
Despite an increase in pre-natal care and medical technology, the number of babies born prematurely – at fewer than 37 weeks gestation – is on the increase. While there are several known factors that contribute to early delivery, nearly 50% of all premature births occur for no apparent reason.
Is there anything I can do to prevent it from happening?
The best way to reduce the risk of premature birth is to stay informed and stay healthy.
- Consult your doctor to assess whether you fall into the ‘high risk’ category. You will be regarded as high-risk if you have delivered prematurely before or are carrying twins. Other factors that increase the risk of an early arrival include pre-eclampsia, being overweight or underweight and certain medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and infections during pregnancy. Smoking or taking drugs during pregnancy also increase your chances of having a premature infant. Severe stress during pregnancy also plays a role.
Even women who do everything right sometimes deliver prematurely – there are just no guarantees. However, the onus is on you to do everything you can to give your baby the best chance of a full nine months in the womb.
- Get prenatal care – regular visits to a health professional will give you and your baby the best chance of optimum health.
- Take enough folic acid before and during your pregnancy.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
- Don’t smoke and steer clear of any drugs, not prescribed by your doctor.
- Maintain a healthy weight and get enough exercise.
- Avoid alcohol.
Know the signs of preterm labour
While you are likely to carry your baby to term, it is important to be able to recognise the signs of preterm labour. Your doctor will not be able to stop labour, but he can give you medications that might buy your baby a little more time for essential development. Recognising a premature labour early, especially if you are less than 34 weeks pregnant, also allows time for steroids to be administered to help your baby’s lungs mature.
Signs to take seriously include:
- Increased or unusual vaginal discharge (possibly containing water, blood, or mucus)
- Pressure in the pelvis or lower abdomen
- Severe stomach cramps
- Frequent or regular contractions of the uterus, often painless
- An unrelenting dull ache in the lower back.
Finally, be aware but don’t worry yourself sick about a premature delivery or let the possibility terrify you. Although modern medicine may not be able to predict or prevent ‘preemies’ – it has advanced enough to ensure that even babies born as early as 25 weeks stand a good chance of survival. More than 90% of babies born at 27 weeks not only survive, but grow up with little or no developmental problems.