ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – November 17 is World Prematurity Day. According to March of Dimes, about 10% of babies are born prematurely in the U.S. every year. Most premature babies end up as healthy adults without major illness, but it has been linked to long-term risks including heart, lung, neurological, and mental disorders. 

We don’t always know what causes preterm labor and premature birth but we do know certain risk factors may make you more likely to give birth early. “My sister and my sister-in-law both had premature babies so I also can come from it from a different perspective,” said Albany Medical Center neonatologist Dr. Kate Tauber.

According to her, women may be able to reduce their risk for early labor and birth. “Women, when they’re considering getting pregnant, really should visit their physician and make sure they have their health under optimal control.”

Get prenatal care, don’t smoke or drink, maintain a healthy weight before pregnancy, and be treated for health conditions. And of course, there are risk factors you can’t change like being pregnant with multiples, having gone through IVF, or being under 17 or over 35. “Obesity is another risk factor. Diabetes, especially uncontrolled diabetes,” Tauber said, adding to the list. “High blood pressure or any clotting disorders are risk factors for delivering babies early.”

Babies need about 40 weeks in the womb to grow and develop before birth. If they’re born early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy, they can have serious health problems. “The biggest things that most of our premature babies face is undeveloped lungs. So that might require them to have a breathing tube inserted to help them breathe until they’re more mature and can handle reading on their own. They are at higher risk for bacterial infections because their immune systems are so immature.”

A baby may be kept in an isolette to keep them warm and away from germs but Dr. Tauber says a mom can help her baby through what’s called “kangaroo care”—holding the baby with skin to skin contact. “Their heart rate and their oxygen levels are much more stable and especially with moms because those preemies remember being in the womb,” said Tauber. “They remember the sound of the heart.”

Dr. Tauber says the NICU can be a scary place and moms shouldn’t be afraid to ask the medical team any questions and advocate for their baby, while also finding a way to stay calm. “Having a journal or somewhere to write down your thoughts and feelings and emotions with everything really, really helps to alleviate some of that stress that they may be feeling,” she said.