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Prematurity Awareness Month: Mayo Clinic Expert Explains Risk Factors
LA CROSSE, Wis. — Roughly 1 in 10 U.S. babies is born prematurely. Preterm labor can affect any pregnancy. To help highlight National Prematurity Awareness Month, Dennis Costakos, M.D., a neonatologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, explains some of the factors behind premature births.
A child is considered premature when born before 37 weeks of gestation. Women who have had children prematurely are at the highest risk of having another baby early, says Dr. Costakos, who has worked in the Mayo Clinic Health System Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 23 years.
"One-third of the time, a preterm birth is due to infection, such as membranes rupturing. Another third of the time, it is due to a medical condition such as preeclampsia, or high blood pressure," Dr. Costakos says. "The other third of the time, we are not sure why a preterm birth occurs."
Factors that can raise the risk of preterm labor also include:
- Certain problems with the uterus, cervix or placenta.
- Some chronic conditions, such as asthma and diabetes.
- Being underweight or overweight before pregnancy, or gaining too little or too much weight during pregnancy.
- Stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one.
- Domestic violence or any form of abuse during pregnancy.
- Multiple miscarriages.
- Red blood cell deficiency (anemia), particularly during early pregnancy.
- Too much amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios).
- Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy.
- Presence of a fetal birth defect.
- Carrying multiple babies such as twins or triplets.
"To lower the risk of having a preterm pregnancy, it is important for women to seek prenatal care. Also, they should not use tobacco, and should stay off of their feet as much as possible. A pregnant woman shouldn't be on her feet for more than 10 hours a day," Dr. Costakos says.
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