Decrease Your Risk of Preterm Birth
Director of Injury Prevention, Infant Mortality Reduction and Death Review
Tennessee Department of Health
Did you know that 1 in 10 babies are born too early in Tennessee? In Memphis, 13.7% of all babies are born prematurely or before 37 weeks gestation. Preterm birth is one of the leading causes of infant mortality. When a baby is born prematurely, he/she might need special care in the hospital. The baby is also at risk for life long disabilities or death. Some steps that you can take to reduce your risk and improve your overall health when pregnant include:
1. Avoid alcohol and illicit drug use.
There is no safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy. Alcohol can affect the fetus throughout pregnancy. It is best not to drink at all while you are pregnant. If you did drink alcohol before you knew you were pregnant, you can reduce the risk of further harm to the baby by stopping drinking.
Illicit drug use includes use of any illegal drugs in addition to the use of prescription drugs for a nonmedical reason. Drug use can interfere with the growth of the fetus and cause preterm birth and fetal death.
2. If you smoke, STOP.
Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals. When you smoke during pregnancy, those chemicals build up in your blood stream, which is the source of oxygen and nutrients for your baby. If you need help with quitting, call the quit line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).
3. Get early prenatal care and attend all of your scheduled appointments.
Some of the largest risk factors for premature birth include high blood pressure, infections, abnormal uterus or cervix, and stress. By going to your provider early and often, these types of conditions can be tracked and monitored and possibly lead to preventing a preterm birth.
4. Learn the signs and symptoms of preterm labor.
The signs of preterm labor include pain in the belly, painful urination, decreased movement from the baby, backache, contractions, cramping, leaking fluid, increased abdominal pressure, increased vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding, and fever. If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to check in with your provider.
5. Ask your provider if you are a candidate for 17P.
If you have already had a preterm birth, you might be eligible for a medication called 17P. This medication is a weekly injection starting around the 16th week of pregnancy and continuing until 37 weeks pregnant. There are no known side effects for the baby. This medication has shown to lower the risk of delivering a preterm baby by as much as 33% for women that have had a previous preterm birth. If you would like more information about 17P, please talk to your OB provider.
6. Wait at least 18 months between pregnancies.
Take your time between pregnancies. Another high-risk factor for preterm birth is having less than 18 months between pregnancies. Infants conceived less than 6 months after giving birth have a 40% chance of being born premature. A longer time between pregnancies is important to help your body heal. To prevent pregnancy for at least 18 months, talk with your provider or local health department about birth control options. If you do become pregnant within this period, be sure to get early care from your provider.
7. Manage stress.
Increased stress puts you and your baby at risk for a preterm birth. Figure out what’s making you stressed and talk to your partner, a friend, family member or your health care provider about it.
8. Lead a healthy lifestyle before becoming pregnant.
If you are considering becoming pregnant, start your healthy lifestyle now. This includes exercising, eating healthy, taking a multivitamin, seeing your physician for a check-up, and getting any illnesses or chronic diseases under control
The following links provide more information on prematurity.