Going into labor prematurely is one of the scariest things a pregnant woman and her family can go through, but not all premature births mean your baby won’t make it. Most doctors say that babies born beyond 28 weeks do well in modern NICUs, and modern medicine is continuing to make strides in perfecting and enhancing medical technology to keep your babies safe — even if they didn’t stay in as long as you would’ve liked. So what causes a baby to be born early? Are some women just predisposed to this happening? Is there anything you can do to prevent it?
According to Dr. Thomas Ruiz, OB-GYN at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, most women go into preterm labor from "having a previous history of preterm birth." And in fact, Ruiz says this is the single biggest risk factor.
"Recurrent preterm birth is highest in the subset women who had preterm birth between 23 and 27 weeks," he says to Romper in an email. "Other minor risk factors are socioeconomic status, [having multiples], or having a short cervix."
Thankfully, if you have a short cervix, your doctor can help prevent you from going into preterm labor by performing a cervical cerclage, or "your doctor can use daily vaginal progesterone," Ruiz notes.
As for prevention for women with a history of preterm labor, Ruiz says your doctor can give a weekly injection — 17-hydroxyprogesterone — from 16 to 36 weeks. But, unfortunately, he also notes that "treatments reserved for women with a history of preterm birth have not shown to be effective for [women with multiples]. Daily contact with a home health nurse in patients with a history of preterm labor is useful in discovering if the woman is experiencing any symptoms."
For those of you going through this situation, there are resources available.
A popular and quite active online resource is Preemie-L, an online foundation for parents of preemies to comfort one another and to recommend books, products, and offer tips with coping and/or continuing on with day-to-day life.
The March of Dimes also offers a NICU family support program at some hospitals. They provide workshops for hospital staff to teach them how to support families going through infant death or preemie babies. According to the March of Dimes website, they provide expert guidance on "coping with bereavement, preventing staff burnout, supporting shorter stay families, working with families in crisis, communication with NICU, and best practices to improve skin-to-skin care."
The March of Dimes website also offers print materials and helpful books and pamphlets for parents going through a rough time.
Just remember, you aren’t alone if your baby is born early. And for most babies born at 28 weeks and after, they do well in modern NICUs. Always be in touch with your doctor if you’re worried about preterm labor, have a high-risk pregnancy, or think you may need to discuss options to prevent preterm labor.