Globally, newborns are possibly the most vulnerable population and particularly at risk are premature babies. At present, prematurity is the leading cause of death among children under five, world over, and a leading cause of disability and ill health later in life. According to a latest Lancet report, it is estimated that India alone accounts for 20 percent of live births and 23.6 per cent of preterm births worldwide. The preterm birth rate in India is estimated at 13 percent.
A preterm birth is one that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Even one or two fewer weeks in the womb can make a big difference in a baby’s development. Up to 39 weeks, the brain, lungs and liver are still growing and developing, along with ears and eyes, and the baby is still learning to suck and swallow.
It is therefore vital to recognise the strategies that can help to reduce the risk of premature birth.
“More than 50 % of premature babies can be saved with often inexpensive care such as essential care during child birth, antenatal steroid injections (given to pregnant women at risk of preterm labour under set criteria to strengthen the babies’ lungs) and basic care for infections and breathing difficulties,” shares Dr Bhupendra Awasthi, Director, Surya Mother & Child Hospital who heads India’s largest neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Karan Johar’s premature children are recovering at Surya Hospital. The hospital has launched its #SavePreemies campaign on its social media pages. Through this, they hope to raise awareness towards the cause of ‘prematurity’ and highlight the governmental and societal effort required to offer care and support to the massive numbers of preterm births in India.
Identification of risk factors in women with improved care before, between and during pregnancies; better access to contraceptives and increased education can further decrease the preterm birth rate, adds Dr Awasathi.
Let’s look at the things would-be mothers can do to help reduce some risk factors:
• Stop smoking: Don’t smoke, drink alcohol use street drugs or abuse prescription drugs. Ask your provider about programs in your area that can help you quit.
• Antenatal care: Go to your first prenatal care appointment as soon as you think you are pregnant. Let your doctor know about any previous gynaecological surgery, or previous health issues that may affect your care. During pregnancy, go to all your prenatal care appointments, even if you are feeling fine. Prenatal care helps your provider make sure you and your baby are healthy.
• Track your weight: Talk to your doctor about your weight and how much weight you should gain during pregnancy. Try to get to a healthy weight before your next pregnancy.
• Know your numbers: Get treated for chronic health conditions, like high blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid problems.
• Protect yourself from infections: Wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom or blowing your nose. Don’t eat raw meat or fish. Have safe sex.
• Reduce your stress: Reduce emotional stress levels through exercise, mediation or yoga. Eat healthy foods. Ask for help from family and friends. Talk to your boss about how to lower your stress at work.
• Pregnancy spacing: Pregnancy within 18 months of giving birth is also associated with low birth weight, small size for gestational age, and preterm birth. Therefore wait at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again. See your provider for a preconception checkup before your next pregnancy.