Trying to get pregnant? Make sure you know the bottom line on baby-making—what you don't understand can affect your bub-to-be's health.
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Prematurity is on the rise. In 2003, 12.3 percent of the babies born--or one in eight--were early (less than 37 completed weeks of gestation). That's up from 9.3 percent in 1981. Three-quarters of the premature babies born today are moderately premature, which means they arrive between 32 and 37 weeks, says Nancy Green, medical director of the March of Dimes. Women at risk for premature delivery include those with uterine or cervical abnormalities, diabetes (usually primary diabetes, but sometimes gestational), hypertension or infections such as bacterial vaginosis, or those who have had previous preterm births or multiple gestations. "Older mothers, who often undergo assisted reproduction procedures that result in multiples, also have a higher rate of preterm delivery," Green says.
How to reduce your chances of having a premature birth
While many causes of prematurity are beyond a woman's control, lifestyle choices are not. Maintaining an ideal weight, eating a proper prenatal diet and getting treatment for any new or pre-existing medical conditions (including gum disease, hypertension, diabetes and depression) all help, as does avoiding smoking and recreational drug use, according to Green. "If a woman has had preterm labor before, a form of progesterone can cut the odds of having a repeat preterm birth," she adds. For information on preemies' development, see "Ask Dr. Jay."