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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Importance of a Full Nine-Month Pregnancy

Importance of a Full Nine-Month Pregnancy

Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Thur., January 22, 2009
By Dr. Judy Bliss

MORE WOMEN ARE giving birth too soon. A shorter pregnancy may sound pleasant to some expectant mothers, but it risks causing their infants lifelong disability and even an early death.

Expectant mothers are usually eager to deliver toward the end of pregnancy. Relatives and neighbors may talk about their premature baby who had no health complications. However, each pregnancy is unique and a baby´s health is not worth the risk of an early forced delivery if it is avoidable.

Newborns are considered premature if a pregnancy does not last the normal 37-42 weeks (about nine months).

Premature births have risen by about 30 percent in the United States since 1981. According to March of Dimes, 10 percent (1 in 10) of newborns are born too soon in California. Here in Contra Costa County, the number is slightly better, at 7 percent (1 in 14).

Although the severity of the health risk depends on how early a baby is born, all premature babies are at some risk of developing health problems, which may include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Underdeveloped organs including lungs
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Vision or hearing loss
  • Delayed learning and development
  • Life-threatening lung or blood infections
  • Death

Babies born 10 weeks too soon are at a much higher risk than babies born one week too soon. One-third of babies born before 28 weeks will die during or shortly after labor. Another third will have a significant disability, and the last third is likely to have some type of disability.

A recent study shows that more than 70 percent of preterm babies are born just a few weeks before a full term. Even late preterm babies, born between week 34 and 36, are three times more likely than full-term babies to develop cerebral palsy.

Because premature births are one of the leading causes of death in infants, it is important to start making lifestyle changes now if you are at risk of delivering early.

What can women do to help avoid a premature delivery and birth defects? If you might or are trying to become pregnant, you should:

  • Stay active and eat a balanced diet. Exercise for one-half hour or more three-to-four times a week, and eat a daily balanced diet of meat, poultry and fish, dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese), fruits and vegetables, and grains, such as bread, pasta and rice. Avoid fast foods and foods high in fat and sugar.
  • Take 400 mg of folic acid daily. This has been shown to reduce birth defects.
  • Avoid any tobacco use.
  • Never drink alcohol or use drugs.
  • Call 800-215-5555 for help if you suffer from domestic abuse (including physical, sexual or emotional abuse).
  • Avoid high levels of physical or mental stress.

Women who are more prone to delivering early include those who:

  • Had a previous preterm baby
  • Are carrying more than one baby
  • Have an abnormal or infected cervix
  • Are over the age of 40

It is especially important for these women to establish care with their doctor before becoming pregnant, or right away once they become pregnant.

For more information about premature births and how to receive free or low-cost prenatal care, visit

Bliss practices obstetrics and gynecology at the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez.

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