Supporting Prematurity Awareness

by Meilana Charles

November is National Prematurity Awareness Month and Tuesday, November 17th is World Prematurity Day. This month, individuals, groups and organizations around the world will provide information on the impact of early births on babies and their families.

What is Premature Birth? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2013) a baby born at 40 weeks is defined as full term, however, if born 3 weeks prior to its due date the baby is considered premature.

The March of Dimes states that 15 million babies are born prematurely worldwide each year (March of Dimes, 2013). In the U.S., one in every nine babies or about 450,000 babies a year are born premature (March of Dimes, 2013). In Texas 12.3% of babies were born premature. Of those percentages, African-American women were more likely to deliver a premature baby regardless of her age, income and education level (Unnatural Causes, 2008). Health Implications associated with premature births include:

  • Feeding and digestive problems
  • Breathing problems such as Respiratory Distress Syndrome
  • Severe infections
  • Jaundice
  • Brain injury
  • Retinopathy
  • Anemia
  • Hearing Loss
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Intellectual disabilities later in life

But there is good news! In 2013, thanks to the collaborative efforts of several organizations, premature deliveries have declined to just 11.4 % nationwide. However, there’s still a long way to go. With all the workshops and resources available, it’s still up to the individual to work toward decreasing the likelihood of a premature birth. Here are some ways individuals can decrease the possibility of premature labor:

Preconception Health – Prior to pregnancy women and men alike should visit with a primary care physician in preparation for the pregnancy. They should also continue eating healthy, maintain a physical activity routine, research family health history, update necessary immunizations, reduce stress and avoid products containing alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs. Additionally, women should take a multivitamins that includes at least 400 mg. of Folic Acid.

baby and dadEarly Prenatal Care – As soon as pregnancy is suspected, a doctor’s appointment should be scheduled. This will confirm pregnancy and a due date. A physical exam, ultrasound and several tests may be ordered, and a family health history will be taken. The earlier prenatal appointments begin, the more the probability of prenatal and fetal complications that can lead to premature births can be reduced.

Watch your Weight – Moms should eat a balanced diet with the appropriate amounts of folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D and mineral while avoiding seafood high in mercury. Primary care physicians will work with pregnant moms to develop an appropriate eating and physical activity plan. This may decrease unhealthy weight gain or preventable diseases, both of which can negatively contribute to premature deliveries.

No Stress – Prenatal stress during pregnancy has been associated with miscarriages, premature births and low weight. Additionally, behavioral and emotional difficulties later in life can be attributed to stressful pregnancies. That is why it’s important to find suitable coping strategies to avoid or limit stressful situations.

Food Safety – Although rarely discussed, bacteria such as listeria, toxoplasmosis, salmonella, and campylobacter can severely impact a pregnancy. Exposure may lead to premature birth, birth defects, later learning disabilities and even intrauterine or infant death. To avoid the likelihood of ingesting harmful bacteria, follow the 4 principle of food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill. Click on the link for more information on the food safety principles:

The prevalence of premature births is a worldwide epidemic impacting families and communities. However, with access to preventative care, resources and information, families can become aware its lifelong implications and take steps to have happy, healthy full-term babies.

Meilana CharlesThis Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Meilana Charles. Meilana is a Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent at Cooperative Extension Program at Prairie View A&M University. Meilana’s priority areas for providing educational resources to McLennan County are general nutrition, money management and parenting. She has a M.S. in Child Development from Texas Woman’s University and is a certified Human Development and Family Studies professional through American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Four easy steps.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Preconception health and health care-Information for men.

Center for Disease Control. (2014). Preconception health and health care-Planning for pregnancy.

Center of Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). National Prematurity Awareness Month-What is premature births?

California Newsreel. (2008). Unnatural causes: Is inequality making us sick?

March of Dimes. (2012). Born too soon: The global action report on preterm birth.

March of Dimes. (2014). Texas premature report card.

March of Dimes. (2014). U.S. premature birth report card.


Posted in

Leave a Comment