November is Prematurity Awareness Month

As with many things, our behavior generally does not just affect ourselves but can many times effect the condition of others and society in general.

It is of vital importance that if you are pregnant or contemplating becoming pregnant that you do everything possible to ensure your own health and also the health of your unborn child. There are several well-understood factors that lead to healthy pregnancies and healthy newborns, and of course the converse is true as well.

Prematurity is defined as a birth before the vital last week of a full-term pregnancy — any birth occurring before 37-week gestation. The earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of death (in 2013, for example about one third of infant deaths were attributable to prematurity), or serious disability such as acute and chronic breathing issues, digestive problems, cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing loss, intellectual problems and bleeding in the brain.

The pre-term rate in the United States is about 9.8 percent and this places the US among the worst of high resource nations. Reducing the pre-term birth rate is a national public health priority and a primary focus of the March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign.

Important growth and development occur throughout the usual 40 weeks of pregnancy, including the final month and weeks. During the last important weeks, the baby’s lungs continue to develop and the baby will gain a protective layer of fat.

Of course, experts do not know all of the reasons that some babies are born too soon even if a woman lives a healthy and responsible lifestyle during her pregnancy. However, there are decided risk factors that can increase the chance of having a pre-term baby.

Some of those risks include being a young mother in the teenage years, or being a woman over the age of 35 years. In 2015, there were 229,715 babies born to teens between the ages of 15 and 19 in the United States.

Having either too high or too low of a body mass index can also spell trouble in carrying a baby to full term. Other considerations are coming from a lower socioeconomic position with less income, education and standard of living.

The use of tobacco before and during pregnancy has long-term negative consequences to the baby. Smoking makes it more difficult to get pregnant, and also increases the change of miscarriage, or early separation of the placenta leading to a miscarriage.

The birth size of babies whose mothers smoke during pregnancy is smaller as well the incidence of cleft lip and cleft palate is increased.

Alcohol usage during pregnancy is strictly wrong. There is no time during pregnancy that alcohol consumption is safe and there is no amount that is safe either. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is the leading cause of birth defects.

If a woman drinks alcohol during her pregnancy so does the baby. All forms of alcohol cross the placenta and can affect the unborn child dramatically. Fetal Alcoholic Spectrum Disorder shows a range of issues for the baby including low intelligence, poor co-ordination, vision and hearing problems and multiple other health problems effecting the kidneys and bones as well as resulting in odd facial features for the child.

Obviously,drug abuse during pregnancy is also an issue that results in varied and serious problems for the young one. Use of opioids during pregnancy results in the baby being born an addict as these drugs readily cross the placenta.

Opioids also cause miscarriage and small birth weight. Use of amphetamines causes birth defects of the baby’s heart. Over 50 percent of pregnant women use prescription, non-prescription (over the counter) drugs or social drugs such as alcohol tobacco or illicit drugs sometime during their pregnancy.

About 3 percent of all birth defects are caused from taking prescription drugs let alone the problems caused by other harmful agents.

Keeping oneself healthy at any time shows personal responsibility and long-term thinking. If you are contemplating becoming pregnant or someone you know is either contemplating pregnancy or who is pregnant, urge them to learn the facts about how their own health directly relates to the health of their unborn child and to the health of our society.

Work with your health care provider to assure that your family grows healthily — it is important to us all.


Dr. Jane Riley, EdD., is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at, 212-8119 cell/text and


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