Preterm Births A Growing Problem


    By Ashley Myers Henderson

    Three years ago Janene Dietrich was an excited, happy mother-to-be. But five-and-a-half months into her pregnancy, she found herself in labor.

    “I was numb at first and then really scared,” said Dietrich, a BYU graduate and Provo resident. “I just kept thinking, ”I can”t believe this is happening to me.””

    Because doctors were able to postpone delivery, Dietrich gave birth to her daughter, Megan, just six weeks early, despite living in the hospital the last three months of her pregnancy. Megan stayed in the intensive care unit for five weeks, feeding from tubes and taking antibiotics for an intestinal infection.

    Dietrich”s story is not an uncommon one as 500,000 babies are born preterm each year in the United States, while 100 infants are born prematurely in Utah in a week. This translates to more than 52,000 preterm births in Utah each year.

    An analysis released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently stated that premature birth is the leading cause of infant deaths in the United States, beating out birth defects, which used to be considered No. 1.

    Stephen McDonald, director of program services for the March of Dimes Utah Chapter, said the findings, which were published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, show preterm births, defined as born before 37 weeks of gestation, are a much bigger problem than has been considered in the past.

    “This study supports the concept that prematurity is a growing problem, much more than we think, and learning to prevent preterm births is vital,” he said.

    To help the problem, McDonald urged women to have a preconception checkup before they attempt to get pregnant. During these appointments, women can discuss their lifestyle and health with their doctors.

    “One of the essential pieces of information that can come from this checkup is the importance to taking a multi-vitamin with folic acid,” McDonald said. “Folic acid has been shown to reduce up to 70 percent of certain defects in the brain and spine, but you must start taking it before you get pregnant.”

    For women who are higher risk, steps can be taken to ensure a normal pregnancy.

    Dietrich, who is high risk because her placenta erupted during her first pregnancy, took extra precautions when her second child, Ben, was born. To make sure Ben was developing properly, Dietrich went into the doctor twice a week to have a non-stress test, which monitored Ben”s heartbeat.

    For all women hoping to become pregnant, especially those who may be high risk, McDonald said they should make sure to be at an optimal weight as being too under or overweight can cause a preterm birth.

    McDonald said it”s important that strides continue to be made because the number of preterm births is more than 30 percent higher than it was 25 years ago.

    “It”s important that developments continue,” he said. “Despite everything we do know, nearly half of premature births have no known reason.”

    The Signs of Premature Labor:
    Contractions at least every 10 minutes
    Pelvic pressure
    Low, dull back pain
    Cramps that feel like menstrual cycle
    Abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea
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