When you’re pregnant, all you can think about is what’s best for your baby and what you can do to avoid any complications, such as going into early labour. While there is often nothing you can do to avoid a preterm birth, a new study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has found that 25 percent of preterm births (before 37 weeks of gestation) can in fact be prevented. By eliminating three major and modifiable risk factors—too short of an interval between pregnancies, a too-high or too-low body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy, and the amount of weight gained during your pregnancy—a quarter of all preemie births can be avoided. And that’s a fair number of births: according to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately one in 12 babies in Canada is born prematurely.
Published online in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, the study’s researchers looked at birth records in Ohio from 2006 to 2011 that included almost 400,000 live, non-multiple births. Lead researcher Emily DeFranco, a physician at the Center for Prevention of Preterm Birth at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and her colleagues found that preventable risk factors for preterm births were present in more than 90 percent of the women in the study.
For instance, the data showed that fewer than half of women begin pregnancy with a normal weight and only 32 percent reached the recommended pregnancy weight. What is the ideal weight gain? It depends on the woman’s BMI. As DeFranco explains, “less weight gain in pregnancy is recommended for larger women. Smaller women need more weight gain to have a healthy pregnancy.” A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 before and during pregnancy is generally considered healthy, she says.
When it comes to the intervals between pregnancies, a waiting period of six months or less has been associated with preterm births and other complications. But the researchers found that we might need to wait a little longer before conceiving again. “Waiting 12 to 24 months between the birth of one baby and conception of the next pregnancy is the optimal amount of time,” says DeFranco.
Considering the high number of premature births in Canada, expecting mothers can find solace in the fact that there are steps they can take to try to avoid birth complications.