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One in every eight babies are born premature. In fact, on an average day in the U.S., 1,305 babies are born preterm (before 37 weeks), 213 are born very preterm (before 32 weeks)....

November is Prematurity Awareness Month

November 17th is World Prematurity Day

What's the big deal? Prematurity is the number one killer of newborns, and babies born just a few weeks early are at risk of severe health problems and lifelong disabilities. The cost is high to society and to each family, in financial as well as emotional dollars.

So, what can be done to prevent preterm birth? The answer is not clear cut, as the causes for nearly half of preterm labor and birth are yet to be explained. However, there are some proven answers to this question as well as other suggestions to help not only prevent preterm birth and labor, but also to improve the health and quality of pregnancy, and therefore, create better health for babies.

Preventing Prematurity

Experts are looking at several ways to prevent prematurity. According to Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birthapproximately 5% of preterm births could be prevented when combining 5 proven interventions:

  • eliminating early cesarean deliveries and inductions of labor unless medically necessary;
  • decreasing multiple embryo transfers during assisted reproductive technologies;
  • helping women quit smoking;
  • providing progesterone supplementation to women with high risk pregnancies;
  • cervical cerclage for high-risk women with short cervix.

Recent research is also showing that vitamin D could prevent up to 50% of preterm birth. Simply maintaining blood levels of vitamin D between 40-60 ng/ml could greatly improve health outcomes for both the mother and baby. Natural Baby Pros is working closely with GrassrootsHealthon this subject with a new program called Protect Our Children NOW, which will implement regular vitamin D screening for a group of 1000 pregnant women and track the health outcomes for the pregnancy and baby. The March of Dimesis also currently looking closely at the subject, as "infections involving the uterus and placenta are a leading cause of preterm birth, especially the earliest ones that pose the biggest risk to the baby." One of the leading researchers notes that "vitamin D fulfills a unique function in pregnancy by both enhancing bacterial killing and suppressing associated inflammation.” Uterine inflammation, which often results from infection, appears to play an important role in triggering preterm labor.

Since infection is a leading cause of preterm labor and birth, it would then make sense to incorporate other regular prenatal routines to help prevent infections as well. See below for additional tips on how to prevent preterm labor and birth.

Stopping Preterm Labor

Once preterm labor starts, can it be stopped? Therapies such as homeopathy, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, utilizingherbs, focusing on stress reductionand doing things to decrease inflammation in the body can help. Seeking the support of a local midwife or other health provider specializing in prenatal care can be crucial to stopping or stalling preterm labor and birth. See below for more tips.

Support for a Preemie

Preemie babies are vulnerable and need extra special care and attention to survive. In fact, a therapy known asKangaroo Care can greatly improve a preemie's chance of surviving and thriving.

Even babies who are born only slightly early run the increased risk of difficulties in breastfeeding, learning and developmental delays, and other issues, and can hugely benefit from additional, special care after birth. See the below tips for additional suggestions from our members and community.

Tips and Suggestions for Preterm Labor & Birth Prevention & Support

This month we asked our members and community to offer their tips on the subject:

It is important for new parents to understand that babies born during the late preterm stage of 34 to 37 weeks are preterm babies when it comes to breastfeeding. These babies will need special care and attention. Many are little fakers and look like they are breastfeeding well when they leave the hospital. But can quickly get into trouble with dehydration, jaundice, excessive weight loss, poor sucking coordination, etc.. These babies can be breastfed 100% but mom may need to pump. Also these babies may actually benefit from a nipple shield and a home scale. It is important to work with your lactation consultant.

Most important care for all premature babies, to ensure future breastfeeding success, is to ask for skin to skin contact as soon as possible. Even babies on ventilators can be held skin to skin and prolonged skin to skin contact (also called Kangaroo Care) can improve the chance that your baby will be a successful breastfeeder.

~ Vicki Wolfrum, CNM

There are many factors to pre term labor, some purely medical but many are of a complex nature involving more subtle factors including a mix of thoughts, beliefs, feelings and reactions in the body. It is important, as early on as thinking of having a child, and as soon as you know you are pregnant to truly honor yourself by increasing your self care and inviting, creating and receiving the support you need on all levels to prepare and hold you for this profound time of being pregnant, growing your baby, giving birth to your child and becoming a mother.

Pregnancy is all about change so it requires being present in order to know how to navigate. Being in an ongoing inquiry and curiosity assists you to be able to sense and determine what would be helpful. Asking " What do I need?" "What would be supportive, feel good? Checking in often about how you are doing - on all levels- body, mind, emotions and sprit. Take time regularly during your pregnancy to really notice what's going on, how you are changing and feeling. It is important to be kind, patient and loving with yourself and all the newness you are experiencing, even if you have other children you are different so be with what is happening now.

Stay present with yourself and release anything that promotes any thoughts or feelings of not doing it right, being incapable or fears that something will go wrong. Notice if you are feeling stressed, concerned, fearful or just not "right" and take the appropriate actions to get support with these things through: self care, time in nature, massage, acupuncture, an honest talk and/or time with your partner, go see and share with your midwife or doctor, spiritual counseling and clearing any birth traumas or stories from your own birth or prior childbirth experiences.

Talk with other women to get more information, get answers to any concerns/ questions you have and build your confidence. Be sure you are eating well, drinking lots of water and Resting! Sleep is a very important preparation for birth. Take the choice to have a baby seriously and give it all the attention it deserves by taking excellent care of yourself first - everyone will benefit!

~ Layla Rainbow Jaguar

Listen to your body! My mother was in the hospital for a month on bed rest when she had preterm labor with me. I focused on that important tip of resting when my body told me I was doing too much.

~ Joann Woolley, Sign4Baby

I read research recently linking maternal anxiety with preterm labour, so my tip would be to reduce stress during pregnancy: exercise, meditation, yoga etc. This is also important from a relationship perspective, a strong, supportive relationship with a partner reduces stress through the whole perinatal period.

~ Elly Taylor

I don't have a lot of experience as a birth professional in supporting a premature baby/family, but went through it with my last one, and what I would say helped me the most was having people around to listen and care. When I had my son, I was heartbroken that no one came to see him because he was in the NICU and they couldn't hold him. I remember crying at night because other then my own children and husband, my pastor was the only one to come. I felt so alone during that time.

~ Michelle Hardy

To stop preterm labor, you can apply doTERRA lavender or Serenity oil to the abdomen and heart area as needed as well as diffusing it into the air.

~ Rachel Adams, San Diego Regional Founding Member, Aromatherapist