Preterm labor is one of the biggest nightmares of any mom-to-be. Babies born too soon face days, weeks, and sometimes months of intensive care and may be left with life-long disabilities as a result of being born too soon. Far worse, many premies don’t survive. Fortunately, we know of a lot of ways to identify moms who are at risk for preterm labor and to take steps to minimize the chances of it happening to them. Here are some factors that, according to the March of Dimes, put you at a higher-than-average risk of having a baby too soon.
1. Having a premie before. If you’ve had preterm labor with a previous pregnancy, you’re at risk for it happening again, so you’ll probably be referred to a high-risk specialist.
2. Being pregnant with twins (or triplets, or more). It gets crowded when two babies try to share one womb! Over half of twins are born early, and triplets and quadruplets are almost always born prematurely, so it’s important to take steps to prevent preterm labor.
3. Extreme stress. While everyday worries and stresses won’t hurt you or your baby, a very severe stressor (like the death of a close family member) can sometimes trigger preterm labor.
4. Having an unusual cervix or uterus. Some women have abnormal reproductive systems, like a womb that is very small or a cervix that is unusually short. These increase the risk of having a baby too soon.
5. Being African-American. Black moms are over 50% more likely than white moms to have babies too soon, possibly because of a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
6. Weight problems. If you are very overweight or underweight before getting pregnant, you’re at a higher-than-average risk for delivering your baby prematurely.
7. Smoking and illegal drug use. Substance abuse of any kind, including alcohol and cigarettes, can cause preterm labor. Street drugs, tobacco, alcohol, methamphetamines, and cocaine all put moms at risk for having premature babies.
8. Abuse. Moms who are abused by a parent, boyfriend, partner, or spouse are much more likely than average to give birth to premies.
9. Infection. Gum disease, urinary tract infections, genital infections, and viral illnesses can all stress the body to the point of causing preterm labor. It’s largely a mechanism to protect the baby from infection before it spreads.
10. Failure or inability to get prenatal care. Moms with little to no prenatal care are much more likely than average to give birth to premies, so it’s important to see your doctor or midwife regularly throughout pregnancy.
If you’re at risk for preterm labor, get in touch with your doctor or midwife about steps you can take to minimize the risks to you and your baby. Your health care provider might recommend some steps you can take to reduce your chances, and to improve the baby’s odds of survival if he is born early.