Image copyright March of Dimes, New York

Image copyright March of Dimes, New York

One in 9 babies are born too early in the United States each year. Around the world, 15 million babies are born before their 37th week–and these numbers are rising. Preterm birth is about more than just being small. Babies born too early can have life long health consequences including hearing and vision impairment, cerebral palsy and learning disabilities. Prematurity is the  leading cause of death in babies less than four weeks of age. And you know what’s worse? According to the World Health Organization, three quarters of these deaths could be prevented, even if there’s not an intensive care unit available.

How do we know  a baby is preterm?

By the dates. Babies are considered term after they reach 37 weeks. A full term pregnancy is actually 40 weeks gestation.

  • Babies born at less than 28 weeks=extremely preterm
  • 28-less than 32 weeks=very preterm
  • 32-less than 37 weeks=moderate to late preterm

What causes preterm birth?

The majority of preterm births happen spontaneously. Sometimes a baby must be delivered early for the baby’s health or the health of the mother–these are less common. For everyone else, experts say that factors like infection, a history of multiple pregnancies, genetics, diabetes and high blood pressure may play a role but no clear-cut cause has ever been determined. Here’s a list of the top 10 countries with the most preterm births.

  • India: 3,519, 100
  • China: ,1 172, 300
  • Nigeria: 773, 600
  • Pakistan: 748, 100
  • Indonesia: 675, 700
  • The United States of America: 517, 400
  • Bangladesh: 424, 100
  • The Philippines: 348, 900
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo: 341, 400
  • Brazil: 279, 300

Preterm birth really is a global problem that crosses economic boundaries into first and third world countries alike.

Preventing preterm birth

The World Health Organization says that preventing a  large portion of preterm births is possible with simple actions like kanagroo care (skin to skin contact between mom and baby), frequent breastfeeding, antibiotics for infection, and the administration of steroids before baby’s birth to support his or her lung development and function after delivery. None of these approaches require advanced neonatal intensive care measures. Certainly NICU care in the United States and other developed countries is recommended whenever possible–but for many women these services just aren’t available. Other cost effective, realistic approaches must be considered.

Light your porch purple

On November 17th, famous “porches” all over the U.S. will go purple to bring awareness to world prematurity. This includes the Empire State Building and even lights on Niagara Falls. You can learn more at the World Prematurity Day Facebook Page or through your local March of Dimes chapter.