Ten Percent of American Babies Are Born Too Early
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Around the globe prematurity is a major issue: Worldwide, nearly 13 million babies are born before the 37th week of gestation, and more than a million of them die each year. Sadly, the numbers appear to be on the rise.
Prematurity is most severe in Africa and Asia, where more than 85 percent of preterm births occur. The second-highest rates are found in the United States and Canada, where more than 10 percent of all births are premature. In this country alone, the rate has skyrocketed in the last 25 years, jumping 36 percent, mainly due to the increase in multiple births, assisted reproductive technology and pregnancy over age 35.
The March of Dimes says these numbers are conservative, and that the problem is likely much bigger. Prematurity takes a toll emotionally, physically and financially: In the United States, care for premature babies, or preemies, costs more than $26 billion a year. Babies born too early often spend weeks, or even months, in the neonatal intensive care unit, and are at risk of all kinds of health issues, from breathing problems and cerebral palsy to blindness, hearing loss and learning disabilities.
For now, there's no known way to prevent preterm labor, but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says women who don't see a doctor regularly during pregnancy, those who've had earlier preterm births and moms of multiples, among other women, are at higher risk.
According to ACOG, avoiding smoking, getting good prenatal care, eating a healthful diet, limiting your activity and taking certain medications may help ward off preterm labor.
Related: British Doctors Let Preemie Die, Miracle Preemie Doing Well at 6 Months