Preterm birth is defined as delivery more than 3 weeks before the due date. A full term pregnancy is 40 weeks, so babies born before 37 weeks are considered preterm.

Premature birth is a common, costly and serious health problem that affects more than 450,000 babies each year in the U.S., 10.2% of all live births in Utah, and worldwide, 15 million babies are born premature, and more than one million die as a result. Preterm birth is the leading cause of newborn death (death in the first month of life). Babies who survive an early birth often have lifelong health problems such as cerebral palsy, vision and hearing loss and intellectual disabilities. Every week of pregnancy counts. The last few weeks are crucial to a baby’s health because many vital organs, such as the brain, lungs and liver, are not completely developed until then.

How Can Preterm Births Be Prevented?

There are steps every woman can take to help give her baby a healthy start in life. Talk with your healthcare provider about how to lower your risk of preterm birth.

  • Visit your health care provider before you get pregnant, early in the pregnancy and between pregnancies.
  • Get to a healthy weight before pregnancy. Control your weight gain during pregnancy.
  • Go to all of your prenatal care appointments.
  • Do not smoke during pregnancy.
  • Control any chronic conditions you may have such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity before and during pregnancy.
  • Wait at least 18 months between pregnancies.
  • Do not consider an early elective (medically unnecessary) delivery before 39 weeks
  • Reduce your stress as much as possible.

If you have had a Preterm Birth before.

The biggest risk factor for preterm birth is a history of prior preterm birth. After one preterm baby, a women’s risk is 1 in 3 for delivering early again.

In women who have gone into labor early before, progesterone supplementation during pregnancy has been shown to reduce the risk of preterm birth by about one-third. Progesterone is a natural hormone made by the body.

If you have had a prior preterm birth, it is important to see a high-risk obstetrician with special expertise in preterm birth, preferable both before and during your pregnancy. A high-risk obstetrician will help you determine why you delivered early, and how your risk might be reduced.

For more information, visit the March of Dimes.