Myths associated with preterm births

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A preterm birth is a birth that takes place before the 37th week of pregnancy.

Going into preterm labor can be shocking and scary for parents, but this should clear up some common preemie myths.

About one in 10 babies is born prematurely in the U.S. There can be feelings of guilt and confusion for parents. But what is fact and what is fiction?

Myth No. 1: You caused this. In reality, up to 50% of preterm births have no known cause.

Myth No. 2: Preemie babies will grow up normally. Maternal and Child Health Research Center Dr. Michal Elovitz says it depends on how early they're born.

"A 24-weeker may survive, but its chance of having really severe neural development disability is quite high," he said.

Even babies born a few weeks later may have issues.

"So, what we're finding now is kids that are born even at 30 or 32 weeks or 34 weeks have neural development problems as well. They may not be as severe, but they are present," Elovitz said.

Myth No. 3: You can't bond with your baby while in the neonatal intensive care unit. Participate in skin-to-skin contact, read to your baby, and help with feeding and changing diapers, if possible, and leave behind items from home that have your scent.

Even though half of preterm births are unexpected and not caused by the mother, there are risk factors to be aware of. Having pregnancies back to back, being pregnant with twins, having high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, or being underweight or overweight are some signs you might be at risk for preterm labor.

RESEARCH SUMMARY
PRETERM BIRTH MYTHS
REPORT #2692

BACKGROUND: About 1 in 10 babies was born too early in the United States in 2017. Premature, or preterm birth, is when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed. The earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of death or serious disability. In 2016, preterm birth and low birth weight accounted for about 17% of infant deaths. Babies who survive can have breathing issues, intestinal (digestive) problems, and bleeding in their brains. Long-term problems may include developmental delay (not meeting the developmental milestones for his or her age) and lower performance in school. Preterm birth rates decreased from 2007 to 2014, and CDC research shows the decline in preterm births is partly due to fewer teens and young women giving birth. Despite this success, the preterm birth rate rose for the third year in a row in 2017, and about 1 in 10 babies (10%) was born too early in the United States. (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/features/premature-birth/index.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Ffeatures%2Fprematurebirth%2Findex.html)

SYMPTOMS AND PREVENTION: Babies may have very mild symptoms of premature birth, or more obvious complications. Some signs of prematurity include small size, with a disproportionately large head; less rounded features than a full-term baby's features; fine hair covering much of the body; low body temperature, especially immediately after birth due to a lack of stored body fat; labored breathing or respiratory distress; and, lack of reflexes for sucking and swallowing leading to feeding difficulties. Women who have a history of preterm birth, a short cervix or both factors may be able to reduce the risk of preterm birth with progesterone supplementation. Cervical cerclage is a surgical procedure performed during pregnancy in women with a short cervix, or a history of cervical shortening that resulted in a preterm birth. During this procedure, the cervix is stitched closed with strong sutures that may provide extra support to the uterus. The sutures are removed when it's time to deliver the baby. (Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/premature-birth/symptoms-causes/syc-20376730)

POSSIBLE GENES LINKED TO PRETERM BIRTH: A large DNA analysis of pregnant women identified six gene regions that influence the length of pregnancy and the timing of birth. The findings may lead to new ways to prevent preterm birth and its consequences. The study was coordinated by Louis Muglia, MD, PhD, co-director of the Perinatal Institute at Cincinnati Children's and principal investigator of the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center--Ohio Collaborative. "We have known for a long time that preterm birth is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Previous research has suggested that about 30 to 40 percent of the risk for preterm birth is linked to genetic factors. This new study is the first to provide information as to what some of those genetic factors actually are," said Dr. Muglia. He goes on to note that this study assembled extensive genomic data from at least five times as many pregnant women than had been gathered by any previous study of pregnancy and preterm birth. "This is a very exciting discovery that can be expected to lead to the development of new treatments to prevent pregnant women from going into labor too soon and to give more babies a healthy start in life," says Stacey D. Stewart, president of the March of Dimes. (Source: https://www.marchofdimes.org/news/discovery-of-genes-linked-to-preterm-birth-in-landmark-study.aspx)