The last few weeks of pregnancy: Critical to your baby’s health

The last few weeks of pregnancy are critical, according to Greater Fort Wayne Family.

A couple friends of mine have recently had babies that are premature. They’re small and seem particularly feeble and helpless. One is being kept in an incubator to prevent hypothermia. I know it’s got to be hard not to be able to hold your baby, keep him near, and feed him yourself. But babies who are born early could have more serious issues to contend with.

In the U.S., more than half a million babies are born too soon each year, and the rate of premature birth has increased almost 20 percent since 1990. Late preterm babies, which account for more than 70 percent of all preterm births, have a greater risk of breathing problems, feeding difficulties, temperature instability (hypothermia), jaundice, delayed brain development and death than babies born at term.  New analysis shows that these late preterm infants also have three times the risk of cerebral palsy and a slightly higher risk of mental retardation.

Researchers from the March of Dimes, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Columbia University and the Harvard School of Public Health found that babies born just a few weeks prematurely are more than three times as likely to have cerebral palsy than full-term infants. They also found a higher risk of developmental delays in preterm infants, (those born 34-36 weeks gestation).

Even more surprising, the earlier an infant was born, the higher the risk of some neuro-developmental problems. For example, infants born between 30 and 33 weeks gestation were nearly eight times as likely as full-term infants to have cerebral palsy.

“The significantly higher rates of cerebral palsy and developmental delays for late preterm babies were surprising,” said Joann Petrini, PhD, director of the March of Dimes Perinatal Data Center and lead author of the study. “Our research adds to the growing body of evidence showing that being born just a few weeks too soon can have lasting consequences that can no longer be described as temporary or benign. These findings reinforce the March of Dimes message that a few extra weeks of pregnancy can have a beneficial effect on an infant’s health.”

“Since brain development continues through the first year, these findings suggest that some late preterm infants may benefit from neurological assessments by their pediatricians to determine whether there is a need for specialized services,” said Gabriel Escobar, MD, of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif. and a co-author of the study. “Future research should focus on how at-risk late preterm infants can be identified sooner, as neurological screening of all late preterm infants is not feasible.”

The obvious question is, therefor, what can be done to prevent preterm labor? Preterm labor and delivery can happen to any pregnant woman, even if she does everything she can to have a healthy pregnancy. Here is advice from March of Dimes on how to reduce the risks.

  • Get prenatal care as soon as you think you’re pregnant and go to every appointment. Go even if you feel fine. If possible, see your health care provider before you get pregnant.
  • If you smoke, stop smoking. It’s best to stop before you get pregnant. If you can’t stop, try to cut down. Avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Don’t drink alcohol.
  • Talk to your health care provider about prescription medications you are taking.
  • If you use drugs or herbal remedies or supplements that are not prescribed by your health care provider, stop using them. It’s best to stop before you get pregnant.
  • Try to reduce stress. Ask friends and family for help. Rest and relax whenever you can.
  • If you’re in an abusive relationship, talk to someone. Abuse often gets worse during pregnancy. Do what you need to do to protect yourself and your baby.
  • If you feel burning or pain when you urinate, you may have an infection. Call your health care provider.
  • Know the signs of preterm labor and what to do if you have any of them. To learn more, see the video Take Action: Learn the Signs of Preterm Labor.

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