An interesting new study says that not all health problems linked to premature births may be the result of a too early delivery. Only some of the physical and mental health problems previously connected with preterm birth are actually caused by it, the study says, other health issues may simply be inherited.
Researchers analyzed the medical records of 3.3 million children born in Sweden between 1973 and 2008, and confirmed the strong link between preterm birth (generally classified as before 37 weeks' gestation) and the risk of infant and young adult death, autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
However, the study authors also concluded that many other problems that have been linked with preterm birth -- such as severe mental illness, learning problems, suicide and poverty -- may instead be more closely related to other factors that people share with other family members.
"The study confirms the degree to which preterm birth is a major public health concern and strongly supports the need for social services that reduce the incidence of preterm birth," study lead author Brian D'Onofrio, an associate professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, said in a university news release.
"Yet, the findings also suggest the need to extend services to all siblings in families with an offspring born preterm. In terms of policy, it means that the entire family, including all of the siblings, is at risk," he added.
Previous studies have compared preterm infants to non-related full-term infants. This study however, compared preterm infants with full-term siblings and cousins, an approach that shed new light on the issue.
"Our study is part of a growing interest in research and public health initiatives focusing on very early risk," he added. "When you look at early risk factors, they don't just predict one type of problem; they frequently predict lots of problems with long-term implications."
The study was published in the September issue of the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Nearly half a million babies in the U.S. are born premature each year.
There are a number of risk factors associated with spontaneous preterm birth but more than half of preterm births happen in pregnancies where there are no identifiable risk factors. While there is no way to predict if you will have a preterm birth, there are some common risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a preterm birth. They include:
- You have had a previous preterm delivery
- You’re pregnant with twins or other multiples
- You are younger than 17 and older than 35
- You were underweight before your pregnancy and have not gained enough weight during pregnancy
- You are African American
- You’ve had vaginal bleeding in the first or second trimester. Vaginal bleeding in more than one trimester means the risk is even higher.
- You’ve had moderate to severe anemia early in your pregnancy
- You smoke, abuse alcohol or use drugs, especially cocaine, during pregnancy
- You’ve had little to no prenatal care
- You are pregnant with a single baby that is the result of fertility treatments.
Spontaneous births can also be caused by medical conditions such as infection, having a problem with the placenta, structural abnormalities of the uterus or cervix or having abdominal surgery while pregnant to name a few.
The best thing that a mother-to-be can do for herself and her unborn baby is to start prenatal care as soon as she discovers she is pregnant. There are no guarantees that you will have a full term delivery with no complications, but you can increase the odds to your favor by getting good prenatal care, sticking to a healthy diet, exercising and keeping your body free of drugs, alcohol and cigarette smoke.
Make it a point to learn about yours and your spouse’s medical family history. There may be clues that your OB/GYN should be aware of as he or she provides your prenatal care.