5 Things Black Women Should Know About Preterm Birth

man resting his head on his wife's pregnant stomachHaving a ‘bun in the oven’ can be a time of excitement and joy of what’s to come, but if your bun doesn’t ‘bake’ long enough that can be cause for serious concern. According to the CDC, preterm (or premature) labor is responsible for more than one-third of infant deaths during their first year of life. Black infants are particularly susceptible and 2.4 times more likely to be affected versus white infants.

Most babies born prior to 24 weeks have little chance of survival.

Only about 50% will survive and the other 50% may die or have permanent problems. However, babies born after 32 weeks have a very high survival rate and usually do not have long term complications. Premature babies born at hospitals with neonatal intensive care units (NICU) have the best results.

The longer your baby is in the womb, the better the chance he or she will be healthy. Here are five things every expectant mother should know about preterm birth to alleviate fears, minimize potential complications and have a healthy pregnancy.

1. What is preterm labor? 

A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Preterm labor is when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy gestation. When a baby is born before this period, they are at increased risk for suffering many complications. These include disabilities developing around their neurological system, children having cerebral palsy or other learning disabilities. Preterm infants stay in the hospital longer and may experience more readmissions to the hospital for additional medical care.

2. African-American women have a higher risk of preterm labor.

African-American women have a higher risk for preterm labor and birth complications. Approximately 1 in 6 Black babies are born prematurely in the U.S. According to a CDC fact sheet, “the risk of preterm birth for Non-Hispanic black women is approximately 1.5 times the rate seen in white women.”  In an article for The Huffington PostLisa Gittens-Williams, M.D. Associate Professor, Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health, UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, wrote, “The reasons for these differences are still under investigation, and actions to reduce the preterm birth rate in this population are underway.”

3. What causes preterm labor?

There are several risk factors for preterm births and many are controllable with simple lifestyle changes. While all expectant mothers (or women looking to become pregnant) should know about the risk factors, knowing becomes especially important for women who:

  • Had a previous preterm delivery
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Drink alcohol
  • Use illicit drugs (e.g., cocaine)
  • Have little or no prenatal care
  • Have high stress levels
  • Have a chronic like high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes
  • Are underweight or overweight before pregnancy
  • Are pregnant with multiples

4. What are the warning signs of preterm labor?

There are symptoms that may signal you’re in preterm labor. To prevent a premature birth, the American Pregnancy Association suggests you call and/or see your doctor immediately if you experience:

  • Five or more uterine contractions in an hour
  • Watery fluid leaking from your vagina (this could indicate that your water has broken)
  • Menstrual-like cramps in the lower abdomen that can come and go or be constant
  • Low, dull backache felt below the waistline that may come and go or be constant
  • Pelvic pressure that feels like your baby is pushing down
  • Abdominal cramps that may occur with or without diarrhea
  • Increase or change in vaginal discharge

It’s important to know that preterm labor does not always result in premature delivery. Some women with premature labor and early dilation of the cervix are put on bed rest until the pregnancy progresses.

5. How can preterm labor be prevented? 

Women can have a healthier pregnancy by making sure they receive prenatal care as soon as they become aware they are pregnant.

Additionally, make sure you are doing the following:

  • Take multivitamins and folic acid every day during your pregnancy.
  • Be aware of your lifestyle habits and eating healthier will help to decrease preterm labor from happening to you as well.
  • Avoid smoking, alcohol and drugs to help you to have a healthier fetus.
  • See your doctor regularly. Inform your doctor if you have medical issues or family history which could impact your pregnancy.
  • If you are working in an environment that exposes you to harmful substances, change your work environment. Work in an area where you do not have exposure to these chemicals.
  • Make sure the meat you eat is cooked well and not under-processed.



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