Premature Birth Prevention

  • Pharanyoo OsotthanakornDoctor of Medicine (MD), Faculty of Medicine, Ramathibodi Hospital, Mahidol University, Thailand

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When it comes to the health of pregnant women and their precious kids, it is considered a serious issue. We can give you the information and advice you need. As we talk about "Preventing Birth," you'll learn the facts and get the tools you need to handle this important part of having a healthy, full-term pregnancy.

What is premature birth? A simple definition of premature birth or preterm birth is when a baby is born too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Some might say it depends on luck and cannot be modified, but premature birth is a medical condition that can be prevented.

Let's explore the nature of this pregnancy complication. We have made this article especially for you, whether you are pregnant yourself or if your family is expecting, in order to make sure that you and your family have a healthy and good life!

Overview

  • What is premature birth, and why does it matter?

Premature birth, also referred to as preterm birth or early labour, occurs when a baby is born before completing 37 weeks of gestation in the womb. This condition is a significant concern in maternal and neonatal health due to its potential short-term and long-term effects on the infant's well-being. Pregnancy complications, such as maternal health issues or infections, can contribute to the occurrence of premature birth. This condition can occur in about 8 out of 100 babies due to NHS1.

The timing of birth is crucial for a baby's development, as the final weeks of pregnancy are vital for the growth of essential organs, including the brain and lungs. Premature birth can lead to various health conditions for the newborn, including respiratory difficulties, temperature instability, and a higher risk of infections.

Premature births are also categorised into severity levels due to how early they are;

  • Early than 28 weeks: extremely preterm 
  • 28 to less than 32 weeks: very preterm
  • 32 to 37 weeks: moderate to late preterm

Causes and risk factors

  • Maternal health and lifestyle influences

The well-being of the mother plays a large role in premature birth. Regular check-ups help healthcare providers assess factors such as nutrition, weight gain, and overall health. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy, which includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, and avoiding harmful substances like tobacco and alcohol, reduces the risk of preterm delivery3.

  • Pregnancy-related risks

As one of the most important risk factors for premature birth is when a woman has a history of previous premature birth, certain interventions are considered, such as hormone supplements.

Cervical insufficiency, a condition where the cervix begins to open too early, can lead to premature birth. Healthcare providers may suggest medical interventions such as cerclage, a procedure to reinforce the cervix, to reduce this risk.

Infections during pregnancy, such as vaginal infections, if left untreated, can pose a threat to both maternal and foetal health.

In some cases, early delivery may be recommended to prevent further complications. Multiple pregnancies, such as twins or triplets, create additional strain on the uterus, often necessitating careful monitoring and potential interventions to prevent preterm birth.

  • Environmental factors

Exposure to pollutants, high levels of stress, and certain workplace conditions have been associated with an increased likelihood of preterm delivery.

Taking Steps for Prevention

  • Prenatal care and regular check-ups

Regular prenatal care plays an important role in preventing premature birth and an overall healthy pregnancy as well. Early and consistent antenatal visits allow healthcare providers to closely monitor the progression of pregnancy and promptly address any potential issues. During these appointments, healthcare professionals can assess factors such as maternal nutrition, weight gain, blood pressure, and fetal growth.

  • Healthy Habits During Pregnancy

Adopting healthy habits throughout pregnancy is crucial to reducing the risk of premature birth. Maintaining a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients, staying hydrated, and engaging in appropriate physical activity can contribute to a healthy pregnancy.  

Stress reduction techniques, such as mindfulness and relaxation exercises, can help manage emotional well-being.

Tobacco and alcohol avoidance during pregnancy is crucial. If pregnant women are dependent on substances, they should seek medical attention for alcohol and smoking cessation.

  • Medical interventions and support
  1. Fetal monitoring technology, such as fetal heart monitoring, allows healthcare providers to track the baby's well-being.
  2. Cervical cerclage is to temporarily sew the cervix closed with stitches. It may be recommended for individuals diagnosed with cervical insufficiency to prevent early labour.
  3. Hormone supplementation must be prescribed by an obstetrician.
  4. In certain cases, antenatal steroids may be administered to enhance lung development in the fetus, especially in cases where early delivery is predicted.
  5. Prevention with antibiotics is considered a choice in some conditions due to bacterial infection is one of the risk factors.

Ensuring a safe delivery

  • Medical decisions and timing

Healthcare providers should closely monitor the mother's condition and the baby's age to make informed decisions about the timing of delivery. Fetal monitoring technology plays a crucial role in assessing the baby's health.

Preterm delivery also comes with signs and symptoms, especially contractions or breaking water, which is called premature rupture of the membranes. If those conditions occur before the expected date, physicians sometimes consider hospitalisation to monitor maternal symptoms and fetal conditions.

In some cases, a caesarean section may be recommended to ensure a safe delivery for both the premature baby and the mother. These decisions are made based on a careful evaluation of the risks and benefits, with the ultimate goal of ensuring the best possible outcome for the newborn.

After the birth postpartum care is very important in the case of premature birth. Newborn intensive care may be necessary to provide the infant with medical support. Stress reduction techniques and family planning strategies can aid the mother's recovery.

Community support and awareness

  • Spreading knowledge and resources

Raising awareness about premature birth and providing accessible information is an essential step in fostering a supportive community for pregnant individuals and families. Disseminating comprehensive knowledge about the causes, risks, and preventive measures of premature birth empowers expectant mothers to make informed decisions. Educational initiatives can include information about the importance of prenatal care, healthy lifestyle choices, and recognising signs of potential complications such as fetal growth restriction.

  • Providing assistance for pregnant individuals and families

Collaborative efforts between healthcare providers such as midwives, GPs, and obstetricians, with community organisations and policymakers, can help bridge these gaps and provide a safety net for those in need.

By fostering a community that prioritises awareness, education, and support, we can contribute to better outcomes for pregnant individuals and families facing the challenges of premature birth. Through knowledge-sharing and compassionate assistance, we can empower expectant mothers to make informed choices, access essential resources, and navigate high-risk pregnancies with confidence and resilience.

FAQ

Can premature birth be prevented?

While it may not always be possible to prevent premature birth entirely, there are steps that can significantly reduce the risk and promote a healthier pregnancy. Attending regular prenatal care appointments is essential, as healthcare providers can monitor the progress of pregnancy, identify potential complications early, and provide guidance on maintaining maternal and fetal well-being. Engaging in healthy lifestyle practises, including a well-balanced diet, regular exercise, stress reduction, and avoiding harmful substances like tobacco and alcohol, can contribute to lowering the chances of preterm labour.

What triggers premature labour?

Premature labour can be triggered by a combination of factors, often involving maternal health, fetal development, and external influences. Infections during pregnancy, certain medical conditions, and lifestyle choices such as smoking and exposure to environmental toxins have been linked to an increased risk of preterm labour. Additionally, health issues like cervical insufficiency or uterine abnormalities can play a role. High levels of stress and poor maternal nutrition can also potentially contribute.

Can bed rest prevent preterm labour?

Relying on bed rest as a preventive measure may not yield consistent results. Instead, emphasis should be placed on a comprehensive approach to prenatal care, which includes regular medical check-ups, adhering to medical guidance, adopting healthy lifestyle practices, and promptly addressing any signs of potential complications.

Who is most at risk for preterm birth?

  • Women with a history of preterm delivery are considered to be at high risk for preterm labour and birth.
  • Pregnancy with twins, triplets, or more, or using assisted reproductive technology.
  • Women younger than age 18
  • Women older than age 35
  • Infections during pregnancy, such as vaginal infections

Certain lifestyle and environmental factors, including:4

  • Late or no health care during pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Facing domestic violence
  • Long working hours with long periods of standing
  • Exposure to certain environmental pollutants

Summary

When talking about preventing premature birth, we should highly consider healthcare during pregnancy. While complete prevention might not always be possible, making informed choices through regular prenatal care, maintaining a balanced lifestyle, avoiding harmful substances, and considering family planning can significantly contribute to reducing the risk of preterm birth. By focusing on these aspects, we empower expectant mothers to take charge of their well-being and create a supportive foundation for a healthier pregnancy and, ultimately, a positive start for both mother and baby.

References

  1. Premature labour and birth. (2020, December 1). Nhs.Uk. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/signs-of-labour/premature-labour-and-birth/
  2. Preterm birth. (n.d.). Retrieved 4 August 2023, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/preterm-birth
  3. Cunningham, F. G. (Ed.). (2018). Williams obstetrics (25th edition). McGraw-Hill.
  4. What are the risk factors for preterm labor and birth? | nichd - eunice kennedy shriver national institute of child health and human development [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Aug 11]. Available from: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/preterm/conditioninfo/who_risk

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Pharanyoo Osotthanakorn

Doctor of Medicine (MD), Faculty of Medicine, Ramathibodi Hospital, Mahidol University, Thailand

Peem is a Health policy and systems researcher with an interest in health policy and economics, as well as health education. Peem had a 6-month internship as a research assistant at the Department of Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Ramathibodi Hospital, Mahidol University, Thailand. Peem has also worked as a web content writer for FitSloth, a health tech startup in Thailand, about personalised nutrition for one year. He is currently a visiting researcher at the Value-Based Health and Care Academy, School of Management, Swansea University, working on research about Value-Based Health Care policy implementation.

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