According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every eight babies each year in the United States is born premature. This affects approximately 500,000 babies yearly. Premature babies are defined as babies born more than three weeks before the baby’s due date. Full term babies are born at approximately forty weeks, and premature babies are born at less than thirty-seven weeks. In the final months and weeks of pregnancy, important growth and development occur in the fetus. This is why premature babies are considered to be at-risk for a number of issues. The earlier that a baby is born, the baby’s risks drastically increase for developmental issues.
The cause of premature birth is often unknown. Any pregnant woman could experience preterm labor. Some women are at a higher risk for experiencing preterm labor. One known risk factor is having a previous preterm birth. Carrying more than one baby, such as twins, triplets, or more, is a risk factor for premature birth. Problems with the uterus or cervix can cause a woman to have a premature birth. African-American women are approximately fifty percent more likely to have a premature baby compared to Caucasian women. Chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and blood clotting disorders are also risk factors for premature births. Certain infections, cigarette smoking, alcohol use, or illicit drug use during pregnancy can cause a woman to deliver a baby preterm. Women who are underweight and overweight before becoming pregnant are also at a risk for not carrying a baby full term (Siega, Adair, & Hoebl, 1996). Sometimes doctors need to deliver a baby before full term because of concerns for the mother’s health, as well as the baby’s health. Preeclampsia and Eclampsia are both risk factors that can cause a woman to experience preterm labor. These conditions increase high blood pressure, which can lead to premature birth.
There are some things that a woman can do to decrease her risk of having a premature baby. Reducing stress decreases the risk of experiencing preterm labor. Exercising is one way to reduce stress (March of Dimes, 2012). Gaining the appropriate amount of weight during pregnancy, usually twenty-five to thirty-five pounds, decreases the risk of preterm labor. Gaining too much weight can lead to gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, which are both risk factors for premature birth. Too little weight gain during pregnancy can also cause premature labor. Prenatal vitamins, a balanced diet, and plenty of water are also ways to decrease preterm labor. Avoiding smoking, drugs, and alcohol can also decrease the risk for premature birth (March of Dimes, 2012).
Most premature babies are hospitalized immediately after birth and spend weeks or months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Staying in the NICU is early hospitalization, and early hospitalization is considered a trauma that babies or children can experience. Babies that are born...