In the United States, one out of eight babies is born prematurely. We talked last time about the challenges of being born early, and the importance of keeping babies inside as long as possible. The March of Dimes 2012 Report Card came out, and Vermont was one of only four states to get at “A”. (Our rate of premature babies was 8.8% – up slightly from last year’s 8.4%, but below the 2020 goal of 9.6%.)

How do you keep a baby inside for as long as possible? There’s been a lot of research in this area lately, and here are some of the things we know.

  1. Smoking cigarettes is definitely a risk factor. Even “moderate” smoking (1 – 9 cigarettes a day) just about doubles your chances of having your baby early. So if you smoke – cut back as much as you can. If you’d like to quit, the State of Vermont has a great new program that will garner you some goodies (as in – gift cards!) if you sign up now. (Our smoking rate here in Vermont has gone down – that’s probably helped us on the preterm front.)
  2. More than one alcoholic drink per day also puts you at greater risk. Now, over the years we’ve come to suggest no alcohol at all – that’s because there’s no way of knowing which babies are at risk, when, for fetal alcohol problems. Here’s some research on this topic.
  3. Evidence suggests that the longer in pregnancy that exercise continues, the greater the reduction in the risk of preterm birth is (Evenson et al., 2002). That’s pretty wild, since some studies that have been done with overweight and obese moms have found that they didn’t exercise because they didn’t want to hurt the baby. So don’t be afraid to stay active – or walk a bit, or swim a bit….or dance at holiday parties!
  4. Stress/ role of inflammation: this is really the hot topic in prematurity, and it may explain the numbers of women who have their babies early even though they don’t “fit the profile”. For example – why would an upper-income, black female lawyer have her baby early? Well, the amount of stress in her life may have contributed to cardiovascular inflammation, which led to preterm labor.

The March of Dimes says, Studies suggest that premature labor is often triggered by the body’s natural immune response to certain bacterial infections, such as those involving the genital and urinary tracts and fetal membranes. Even infections far away from the reproductive organs, such as periodontal disease, may contribute to premature delivery. Read more.

Kathleen Kendall Tackett, a well-known researcher on women’s maternal child health from a developmental psychology standpoint, has some good information about this topic, with references. You can see some information about Omega 3’s and preterm birth here.

There’s a lot we don’t know.
But the bottom line is – if you can keep that baby inside, do it!!