The Truth About Preterm Birth
- The reasons behind preterm births are not always as clear as we want them to be.
- Many risk factors including a person's behavior, environment, & access to care play big roles in the outcome of your pregnancy.
- As we continue to see the rate of preterm births rise, it's important to understand how you can best prevent preterm birth for you & your baby!
As soon as you find out you’re pregnant, one of the first things you’ll want to know is your due date. But that date is just an estimate, and your baby may come earlier or later than that date! When a baby is born early (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) they are considered premature (also known as preterm) births. Sometimes babies born prematurely have disabilities or other health concerns due to their early birth. In Georgia, 1 out of every 9 babies is born preterm, which is slightly higher than the national average.
In Georgia, not all women are equal when it comes to risks of having a preterm birth. Black women are more likely to have a preterm birth than women of other races. While the exact reason for these differences isn’t well-known, issues like chronic stress due to racial discrimination are suspected to play a role. Where you live also matters, with 300,000 women living in maternity care deserts, meaning they have little-to-no access to necessary pregnancy care, such as OB/GYNs, nurse midwives, or hospitals providing obstetrical care. Many moms experience a preterm birth not understanding their risk factors until after the fact. However, not all risk factors can be easily controlled by the mother. You can better understand the truth about preterm births here with Pickles & Ice Cream Georgia®.
Risks Leading to Preterm Births
Preterm birth is complicated and research is still being done to better understand why preterm births continue to increase in Georgia today. Usually, preterm birth is not caused by just one thing. There are several factors that can increase your risk of preterm birth.
- Previous Preterm Birth – Having given birth to a premature baby before is one of the strongest predictors of a preterm birth.
- Pregnant with Multiple Babies – In Georgia, over 2/3 of multiple births are preterm. Being pregnant with multiples is a common risk factor for preterm birth.
- Smoking – Smoking can cause preterm births and birth defects. It is never too late to quit smoking!
- Short Time Between Pregnancies – Having pregnancies that are close together increases your risk of premature birth. Consider birth spacing to avoid this risk.
- Lower Income or Education Level – Lower individual and community socioeconomic status (a measure that includes things like education, income, and job status) are associated with higher risk of preterm birth. This is a complicated risk factor that is not easily controlled or changed by an individual.
- Health Complications – Pregnant women who develop complications like diabetes, seizures, PCOS, obesity, or high blood pressure have an increased risk for preterm birth.
- Uninsured or Underinsured – Healthcare, both before, during, and after pregnancy, is important for managing maternal health and identifying conditions that may lead to preterm birth. Having health insurance is an important factor contributing to access to healthcare.
- Infections – Some types of infections, including COVID-19 and certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs), can cause preterm births.
Avoiding Preterm Birth
It is important to remember that having one or multiple risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll definitely have preterm labor or give birth early. But it may increase your chances. Talk to your health care provider and learn what you can do to help reduce the likelihood of preterm births.
Here are some of the steps you can take to reduce your risks.
- Take care of your own mental and physical health! Try to find ways to keep yourself relaxed and healthy throughout your pregnancy. Ask for help from family and friends. Spend time outdoors or try new healthy foods. Consider joining a support group to help you manage stressors.
- Go to all of your prenatal care appointments. There are programs like Medicaid and Planning for Healthy Babies that can help cover the costs of your appointments. See if you are eligible today!
- See a health care provider to help manage any chronic conditions you may have, like diabetes or high blood pressure.
- Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol while pregnant. Talk to your healthcare provider about programs and resources to help you quit.
- Avoid getting infections by practicing good cleaning and handwashing habits. Talk to your provider about vaccines that can help protect you and your baby. Avoid foods that are more likely to cause foodborne illness, like raw meat or eggs.
- Be proactive, get tested and treated for any STIs and practice have safe sex to prevent new infections.
Protect You & Your Baby
Preterm birth is a serious problem nationwide and here in Georgia. Discuss with your provider and your support system about your risks. Consider Perinatal Case Management. This service is offered by the Southeast Health District of Georgia’s Department of Public Health. It provides personalized support to pregnant women, including economic, nutritional, educational, and medical/health care. This service also offers in-home nursing visits for high-risk mothers in some counties. Regardless of your risks of preterm birth, you should know the signs and symptoms of preterm labor.
If you think you are going into preterm labor, contact your provider immediately! Your provider may be able to stop the early labor or help stabilize you and your baby’s health before birth.
- Premature Birth, CDC
- A Profile of Prematurity, Georgia March of Dimes.
- Preterm Birth, CDC
- Preterm Labor and Premature Birth, March of Dimes
- Racial disparities in prematurity persist among women of high socioeconomic status (SES), AJOG
- Racial Discrimination and Adverse Birth Outcomes: An Integrative Review, NCBI
- The Role of Socioeconomic Factors in Black–White Disparities in Preterm Birth, NCBI