Monday, April 8, 2013

Babies Born Too Soon

     A routine pregnancy can become a high-risk pregnancy without notice. One out of every nine babies is born premature each year, yet the cause of pre-term labor is not fully understood. “There are many known factors related to preterm labor, but it’s sometimes difficult to identify the exact cause of it,” said obstetrician/gynecologist Gary Smith, MD of Women’s Health Center at Robinwood. 

     Babies are considered preterm when born at 37 weeks or earlier. The less time a baby spends in the mother’s womb, the greater the chances of the baby having severe health problems—like lung, liver, digestive, brain and immune system complications. While many women never dream they will have a baby born too early, preterm births can occur in women who have no known risk factors.

     According to Dr. Smith, the best defense is to know your risk factors and get obstetrical care early in your pregnancy.

Factors for preterm labor include: 
  • Having a previous preterm birth 
  • Carrying more than one baby 
  • Trauma to the cervix or previous procedures on the cervix such as second trimester abortions 
  • Uterine abnormalities 
  • Health conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes 
  • Cigarette, drug and alcohol use 
  • Poor diet 
  • Significant physical or psychological stress and major depression 
  • Infections 
  • Uterine bleeding in the second or third trimester 
  • Low prepregnancy weight and low weight gain during pregnancy 
  • Less than 12 to 18 months between pregnancies 
     “I tell my patients to live a healthy lifestyle and know their risk factors and the signs for preterm labor,” says Dr. Smith.

Indicators for preterm labor can include:
  • Contractions every ten minutes or more often that don’t resolve with rest and fluids 
  • Fluid or bleeding from the vagina 
  • More than usual pelvic pressure 
  • Middle, low back pain 
  • Cramps similar to menstrual cramps 
     “Early access to health care is so important,” explains Dr. Smith. “If a woman is at high risk for a preterm delivery, we can begin progesterone injections to help the uterus grow and prevent contractions early in the pregnancy.” Physicians can also treat the cervix surgically to prevent it from opening too soon in the pregnancy. Dr. Smith suggests going to for more information on risk factors and indicators of preterm labor.

Help for preemies
     When a woman goes into preterm labor, physicians use medications to slow down contractions and inject the mother with steroids to mature the baby’s lung development. When babies are born prematurely, they need help breathing, eating and staying warm, and require the advanced care of a special care nursery or newborn intensive care unit (NICU). Meritus Medical Center’s Special Care Nursery cares for babies as early as 32 weeks gestation.

     The March of Dimes promotes the health of babies by preventing premature births, birth defects, and infant mortality. On Saturday, April 27, the March of Dimes walk will be held at Fairgrounds Park in Hagerstown. Each year, Meritus Health and its employees participate by forming walking teams and raising money. Neonatal nurse Kelly Footen, RN has been a March of Dimes Walk team captain for the past four years. Since that time, Meritus Medical Center has tripled its fundraising efforts for the walk. “Whether it’s surfactant therapy for lung development or PKU screening to ensure a baby’s growth and development, I see the work of the March of Dimes first-hand,” says Footen. If you would like to contribute to the Meritus Health team go to

By: Anne Gill

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