Most babies are born healthy at or near their due date. Sometimes, though, babies are born early and might have health problems.
Why Are Some Babies Born Early?
Babies born before 37 weeks are premature. A premature birth is more likely to happen when a mother has a health problem — like diabetes — or does harmful things during her pregnancy, like smoke or drink. If she lives with a lot of stress, that also can make her baby be born too early.
Many things can cause a baby to be born early or with health problems. Some of these things can be controlled, but others can't.
Here's what you can do to have a healthy pregnancy.
How Can I Stay Healthy During Pregnancy?
During pregnancy, help your baby grow strong and healthy. Be sure to:
- Start prenatal care as soon as you think you're pregnant. Prenatal care is the health care that you get during pregnancy. All pregnant women should see a health care professional as soon as they think they're pregnant, and should plan regular prenatal visits throughout pregnancy.
- Get health problems treated. It's best to have any health problems (like diabetes, depression, or high blood pressure) under control before becoming pregnant. But if you don't, talk to your doctor right away about a treatment plan.
- Eat a healthy diet. It's important to eat a variety of healthy foods before and during pregnancy. Take a prenatal vitamin to be sure you're getting enough folic acid, iron, and other important nutrients.
- Gain the right amount of weight. How much weight you should gain depends on how much you weighed before you were pregnant. Most women who are at a healthy weight should gain about 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. Overweight women should probably gain less.
- Don't smoke, drink alcohol, or take illegal drugs. Staying away from tobacco, alcohol, and drugs can help you and your baby avoid many serious health problems, like fetal alcohol syndrome and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). If you do any of these things, get help to quit.
- Wait at least 12 months between pregnancies. Increasing the time between pregnancies may lower the chances of preterm birth, especially if you had a premature baby before.
Things You Can't Control During Pregnancy
Some things that may increase the chances of a premature birth are out of your control. This doesn't mean that your baby will be born sick or too early. Remember, most babies are born healthy.
Here are some things you can't control during pregnancy:
- Your age. Mothers who are 17 or younger or 35 or older are more likely to have a premature baby. Teen moms are more likely to get high blood pressure during pregnancy and less likely to get the health care they need. Older women are more likely to have health problems before they get pregnant.
- The number of babies (multiples). The chances of having a premature baby go up if the mother is pregnant with twins, triplets, or more. More than half of all twins are born early.
- Your health. Moms with problems like diabetes, depression, or high blood pressure may need to see their health care professional more often to keep these conditions under control.
- Problems with an earlier pregnancy. A woman who has had a previous early delivery, or a baby born with health problems or a birth defect, is more likely to have problems in future pregnancies too.
- Other factors. It's not clear why, but black women are more likely to have premature babies than white and Hispanic women.
If you're pregnant or are planning to be, talk with your health care professional. Women who get regular prenatal care are more likely to have a healthier pregnancy and baby.Back to Articles
Medical Care During Pregnancy
The sooner in pregnancy good care begins, the better for the health of both moms and their babies. Here's what to expect.Read More
Staying Healthy During Pregnancy
During your pregnancy, you'll probably get advice from everyone. But staying healthy depends on you - read about the many ways to keep you and your baby as healthy as possible.Read More
Taking Care of Your Mental Health During Pregnancy
Pregnancy brings a mix of feelings, and not all of them are good. It can be even harder if you're dealing with depression or anxiety.Read More
5 Ways to Prevent Early Labor (Slideshow)
It's best for babies not to be born before they're due. Learn what you can do to prevent early labor.Read More
Pregnancy Precautions: FAQs
Moms-to-be have a lot of questions about what's safe during pregnancy. Keep your sanity by knowing what you can - and can't - do before your baby arrives.Read More
Pregnancy & Newborn Center
Advice and information for expectant and new parents.Read More
The reality of labor and birth may seem extremely far off - but now's the time to start planning for your baby by creating a birth plan that details your wishes.Read More
Preparing for Multiple Births
Are you expecting more than one baby? Find out how to take care of yourself and prepare for your multiple birth experience.Read More
What's a "High-Risk" Pregnancy?
Find out what the experts have to say.Read More
Birthing Centers and Hospital Maternity Services
Where you choose to give birth is an important decision. Is a hospital or a birth center right for you? Knowing the facts can help you make your decision.Read More
A Week-by-Week Pregnancy Calendar
Our week-by-week illustrated pregnancy calendar is a detailed guide to all the changes taking place in your baby - and in you!Read More
Prenatal Tests: FAQs
Every parent-to-be hopes for a healthy baby, but it can be hard not to worry. Find out what tests can keep you informed of your health — and your baby's — throughout pregnancy.Read More
Having a Healthy Pregnancy
Whether you feel confused, worried, scared, or excited, you'll want to know how your life will change, what you can do to have a healthy baby.Read More
Telling Parents You're Pregnant
If you just learned you're pregnant, you're not alone. You probably wonder how to tell your parents and how they'll react. Read our article for some tips.Read More
Preventing Premature Birth
Babies who are born premature - before 37 weeks of pregnancy - can have health problems that last their whole lives. Learn ways to prevent early labor and have a healthy pregnancy.Read More