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Take care during pregnancy for health baby
Health advice
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Babies born just a few weeks premature are six times more likely to die during their first week of life, than full-term babies, according to an analysis published in the Journal of Pediatrics. “We have known from previous studies that late pre-term infants have greater risk of certain problems like respiratory distress syndrome, feeding difficulties, temperature instability (hypothermia), jaundice and brain development. Now we have evidence that there is a greater risk of death among these babies,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes Foundation.
Late pre-term babies, those born at 34 to 36 weeks gestation, account for 71 percent of all premature births. The national pre-term birth rate is 12.5 percent which means that more than 500,000 infants are born too soon each year.
In addition to health problems, pre-term babies are more likely to have significant learning and behavioral problems after the age of 5 than babies born full-term. Scientists at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences recently reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that children born prematurely have much lower cognitive scores, with lower-than-average learning ability, and more behavioral problems after the age of 5 than children born full-term.
Many state Public Health Departments say its tough to name a more significant impact of tobacco use than the growing numbers of premature births. Public health officials say smoking and limited access to health care have a lot to do with why pre-term figures are so high. Pre-term birth along with low birthweight, both of which have steadily increased in the past two decades, are leading causes of infant mortality. Premature babies who survive are twice as likely to have major birth defects, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In an average week in Georgia, 2,735 babies are born; 318 of these babies are born to teen mothers (ages 15-19) and 372 of these babies are born pre-term.  An average of 260 babies are born with a low birth weight. Sadly, 23 babies will die before their first birthday.
A normal pregnancy should last about 37 to 40 weeks. The earlier in pregnancy a baby is born, the more health problems it is likely to have.
Of the 4 million infants born annually in the United States, approximately 1,400 babies will be born prematurely and another 3 to 5 percent will be born with a birth defect. Even with all the research being done to reduce the rates, premature birth rates increased almost 35 percent between 1981 and 2005. The pre-term birth rate has increased more than 20 percent just since 1990. One out of eight babies is born prematurely in the United States.
While premature babies have health problems due mainly to undeveloped organs and low birth weight, babies with birth defects have abnormalities in the structure, function or metabolism process, although both conditions may occur in one baby. Both of these conditions can cause physical or mental disabilities or they can be fatal.
Birth defects may be caused by genetic and/or environmental factors and several thousand different types of birth defects have been identified. The causes of 60 to 70 percent of them, however, are unknown.
The March of Dimes recommends the following preventive steps to help reduce the risk of birth defect:
• Schedule a pre-pregnancy visit with your health care provider. This visit will give you the opportunity to provide information about your and the potential father’s family history, thus identifying risk factors for birth defects or inherited genetic conditions or showing areas you need to check on.  
• You may want to get vaccinated for German measles and chickenpox if you haven’t already done so. Chickenpox, like German measles, can potentially cause birth defects when contracted by pregnant women.
• Women wishing to become pregnant should take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid. Studies show that taking 400 micrograms of this B-vitamin prior to and in the early weeks of pregnancy reduces the risk of having a baby with certain birth defects of the brain and spine.
• Some birth defects can be diagnosed before birth by using prenatal tests such as ultrasound, amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling.
Materials for this article came from the March of Dimes and CDC's Web sites.

Ratcliffe is the public information officer for the Liberty County Health Department.
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