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
Premature birth is not to be taken lightly. It's the number one cause of neonatal death in the first month of life, and it can trigger health problems such as developmental delays, chronic lung disease, and cerebral palsy. These conditions take an emotional and financial toll on families and doctors. The average hospital cost of a newborn is $4,300; for a preterm baby, it's $58,000, according to the March of Dimes. In addition, 65 percent of women and 59 percent of men mistakenly attribute preterm labor to risky prenatal behavior, according to a March of Dimes survey, though that link often can't be made.
While modern medicine has made great strides in treating premature babies, there have been few advances when it comes to preventing or stopping preterm labor. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently stated that the effectiveness of common treatments for preterm labor -- such as bed rest, pelvic rest (abstaining from sex), and increased fluids -- is not known.
"We don't understand the mechanism of preterm birth enough to come up with safe, effective ways to prevent it," says Ronald Gibbs, M.D., chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, in Denver. "Strategies so far have focused on trying to stop preterm labor, but that's like closing the barn door after the horse is out." But new research is beginning to hint at both the causes of preterm labor and ways to prevent it. And more may be on the horizon: The March of Dimes recently launched a $75 million campaign dedicated to lowering national rates by 15 percent, and has designated November 18 Prematurity Awareness Day. Here's what you need to know now.
Senior editor Lisa Singer covers health for BabyTalk.