Every year in November, the March of Dimes recognizes Prematurity Awareness Month by sharing vital information with families in an effort to share information and reduce the rate of prematurity in the United States. Prematurity is defined as a baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
For the second year in a row, the rate of babies born prematurely has risen. The rate of prematurity is now at 9.8% for 2016, an increase from 9.6 % in 2015. This means that more than 380,000 babies born prematurely in the United States each year. The rate is worse for families of color, where black parents are almost 50% more likely to give birth to a premature baby. Native American and Alaska Native people are 18% more likely to deliver preterm compared to white parents.
For families in the childbearing years, knowledge is key. We've collected some of the most important things you should know -- and share -- about premature birth.
How to Prevent Premature Birth
Premature birth is not always preventable. But there are many practices shown to prevent premature birth. Following are key steps you can take to help reduce your chance of having a premature baby.
1. Begin prenatal care as soon as you find out you are pregnant, and attend appointments as scheduled
2. Choose a care provider who practices evidence-based care
3. Avoid practices linked to prematurity, like:
- Street drugs
- Excessive stress
4. Be proactive with healthy habits known to reduce prematurity risk, like:
- Treating chronic health conditions
- Maintaining healthy weight
- Protecting yourself from infections by washing hands, avoiding raw meat, having safe sex, and avoiding cat feces
5. Unless medically necessary, do not choose induction or c-section prior to 39 weeks.
Prematurity Support in the First Few Weeks & Months
For many parents, premature birth is unexpected, scary, and overwhelming. It's critical to have support during this time. In addition to the medical and emotional support from health care providers, family, and friends, you may need additional resources. The following three online resources are dedicated to helping parents navigate the confusing and worrisome first few weeks and months of life with a premature baby.
Supporting the acute needs of preemies and their parents. The organization also supports advocacy and research to impact the future outcomes of preemies. Services include:
- NICU, transition home, and remembrance care package programs
- Trained preemie parent mentors available 24/7 via email, phone, and text
- MyPreemie, the market-leading app for parents of premature babies
- Online communities with over 30k engaged parents making new connections
Hand to Hold is a non profit parent support organization founded by mothers who gave birth to premature babies and found the need for a community of other parents who had gone through similiar experiences. The site offers peer-to-peer support nationwide allowing parents to connect across the country to share their personal experiences. Other resources include FAQs, educational videos and articles, resources in Spanish, a resource directory and "meet the provider" interviews.
For help navigating the NICU with a preemie. Included on the site are resources for preemie development, informational articles for parents experiencing NICU, and a free app you can download which offers "an empowering and educational pocket guide to prematurity, helping to reshape the preemie parent experience from day one."
Prematurity in Your State
According the the March of Dimes' 2017 prematurity report card, the United States scored a "C" on premature birth rates. For the second time in a row, the percentage of premature births in the United States increased, and what's most alarming is the widening difference in prematurity rates for different races and ethnicities.
If you are a parent who is pregnant, take time to learn more about your state's rate of premature birth, as well as the many ways you can prevent premature birth for your baby. You can also provide more active support through volunteering, advocacy, donating, and hosting a local event.