Can You Prevent Preterm Labor?
Compelling new research says it may be possible. Here, nine surprising ways to help get your baby to term - and to a healthier start in life
On an uneventful Monday night, Kim Cowan, 31 weeks into her first pregnancy, was sprawled on the couch reading about ways to pay down her debt. Then, without warning, she felt a thrust in her abdomen. "There was a kick, a pop, and then a gush of water," says Cowan, 31. She yelled to her husband, Kelly, and ran to the bathroom. "Is your water breaking?" he asked. No way, thought Cowan, who still had a good two months to go.
"I was terrified," says Cowan, who didn't have any risk factors for pregnancy complications. Too panicked to drive, the couple had a neighbor rush them to the hospital, where their fears were confirmed: Cowan's water had broken and she was in labor. Suddenly, her life was in chaos. "Nurses and doctors were poking and prodding me, and asking a million questions." Her doctor was able to delay delivery with medication, so she could be given steroids to help her baby's lungs develop. Three days later, Cowan gave birth to a son, Cayce, who weighed only 3 pounds, 11 ounces. He was immediately rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit, where he stayed for a month.
Cowan's experience is becoming a more common one for moms-to-be. Rates of preterm birth -- one that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy -- have increased a frightening 28 percent since 1981. It affects about 480,000 babies annually, or one in eight live births, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Experts say the increase is due to the widened use of fertility treatments (and the related rise in multiple births) and the older age at which women today begin having children.