It’s National Prematurity Awareness Month — an opportunity to reflect on the nearly 400,000 babies born preterm each year in our nation and what we can do to prevent it.


According to Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 10 babies are born preterm, or before completing the normal 37 to 40 weeks of pregnancy. These babies miss out on the important growth and development that happens in the final weeks. Preterm birth is a leading cause of infant mortality. Babies who survive can have short- and long-term health problems.


The problem is more prevalent in the African-American population. In 2015, the rate of preterm birth among African-American women (13.4 percent) was about 50 percent higher than the rate of preterm birth among white women (8.9 percent).


There’s some good news. The national rate of preterm birth declined 8 percent between 2007 and 2014, most likely due to successful teen pregnancy prevention. And locally, funding and other support from Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County has reduced infant mortality rates in Palm Beach County through prevention and education efforts.


Women can do a lot to reduce the risk for early labor and birth.


According to March of Dimes, some risk factors are things you can’t change, like having a premature birth in a previous pregnancy. Others are things you can do something about, like quitting smoking. Here’s a list of what you can do to reduce your risk for preterm labor and premature birth:


  • Get to a healthy weight before pregnancy and gain the right amount of weight during pregnancy. Talk to your provider about the right amount of weight for you before and during pregnancy.
  • Don’t smoke, drink alcohol use street drugs or abuse prescription drugs. Ask your provider about programs that can help you quit.
  • Go to your first prenatal care checkup as soon as you think you’re pregnant. During pregnancy, go to all your prenatal care checkups, even if you’re feeling fine. Prenatal care helps your provider make sure you and your baby are healthy.
  • Get treated for chronic health conditions, like high blood pressure, diabetes and depression. Depression is a medical condition in which strong feelings of sadness last for a long time and interfere with your daily life. It needs treatment to get better.
  • Protect yourself from infections. Talk to your provider about vaccinations that can help protect you from certain infections. Wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom or blowing your nose. Don’t eat raw meat, fish or eggs. Have safe sex. Don’t touch cat poop.


BRIDGES invites all of our partners – future parents, pregnant women and everyone supporting them through their pregnancy, healthcare providers, public health professionals, and others – to learn about preterm birth and take action to prevent it.

(Image credit: Society for Women’s Health Research)