Prematurity Awareness Month

What can I do to prevent having a baby too early?

By Ruchi Kaushik, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor, Pediatrics
Medical Director, ComP-CaN (Comprehensive Peds for Complex Needs)
Medical Director, CHRISTUS Children’s Blog
Baylor College of Medicine
CHRISTUS Children’s

Sanjuanita Garza-Cox, MD
Neonatologist, MEDNAX
CHRISTUS Children’s
Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Baylor College of Medicine

We do EVERYTHING for them, even before they are born. When we find out we are pregnant, we eat the right foods, take the right supplements, read the right books, quit drinking coffee (probably the toughest), and keep all of our prenatal appointments.

As the excitement (and the baby) grows within us, we register for our baby showers, start to fill the nursery, and pack hospital bags.

But even our best laid plans cannot prepare us for the sudden, premature arrival of our precious newborns.

November is Prematurity Awareness Month. Babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed are considered to be premature, and prematurity is the leading cause of death under the age of 5 around the world.

There are some reasons that women have babies prematurely that cannot be changed (having a premature baby in the past or being pregnant with multiple babies), but there are a few steps you can take to reduce your risk.

What can I do to prevent having a baby too early?

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Talk to your doctor about what this means for you, preferably before you decide to get pregnant.
  • Space your pregnancies: Wait at least 18 months after having a baby to get pregnant again.
  • Access quality, regular prenatal care: See your doctor as soon as you find out you are pregnant and follow up for regularly scheduled visits to monitor your pregnancy and identify pregnancy-related disorders early (diabetes, high blood pressure).
  • Limit exposures: Do not smoke, drink alcohol, or use illicit substances while you are trying to get pregnant and once you are.
  • Manage stress: Exercise, eat healthy foods, and participate in activities that have helped you cope with stress in your life.
  • Prevent infections: Ask your doctor about vaccines you may need to receive during your pregnancy. Practice good and frequent hand-washing. Don’t eat raw meat, fish, and eggs, or soft cheeses. And don’t change the cat litter or work on outdoor flower beds.

What happens if I go into labor prematurely?

If you think you are in labor prematurely, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Facing the possibility of giving birth prematurely can be very overwhelming. You may feel scared or sad, but you will not be alone. A team will be ready to take care of you and your baby.

In the hospital, your doctor may do any of the following:

  • Treat the cause: If a reason for why you are in premature labor can be found, your doctor will try to treat it.
  • Stop labor: You may undergo treatments and measures that will stop the labor to help you hold your baby in longer.
  • Help your baby’s lungs mature: You may receive steroid shots to help your baby’s lungs mature in the case that she does come early.

What should I expect if my baby is born prematurely?

Depending on how prematurely your baby is born, she will either be transported to the newborn nursery or the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). If the hospital in which you deliver does not have a NICU that typically manages premature babies or there are complications that result in her being very ill, she may need to be transferred to one that does.

Once in the NICU, keep a list of questions to ask the medical team and a diary to keep up with your baby’s progress. They will encourage you to stay involved in your baby’s care, give her a gentle touch and read to her every day.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and for support from social workers, hospital chaplains, parents support groups as well as friends and family.

How should I prepare to take my baby home?

  • Stay organized with a binder where you can put keepsakes, a checklist of milestones needed to be passed to be discharged home and to follow up after going home.
  • Become familiar with the names of your pediatrician and specialists.
  • Ask for support from nursing and therapists in the home.
  • Make a list of questions before you see your pediatrician and specialists so you don’t forget what to ask when you get there.
  • Advocate for participating in decision-making for your baby.
  • For more details on taking your baby home from the NICU, see our blog titled Taking Home a Medically Fragile Child here.

If you need an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies, please call 210-704-3200 or talk to your doctor about a referral to our Center for Maternal and Fetal Care.

To take a tour of CHRISTUS Children’s in preparation for childbirth, please call 210-704-2326.