More Time Between Pregnancies Helps Reduce Risk of Premature Birth

ThinkstockPhotos-186083784Contributed by: Emily DeFranco, DO, Associate Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Maternal-Fetal Medicine 

In the United States, 1 in 9 babies are born prematurely and worldwide, 15 million. The outlook here in Hamilton County and the state of Ohio doesn’t look good. The United States ranks among the bottom industrialized nations in infant mortality—Ohio is near the bottom among states with 17,000 babies born too soon. Here, in the region, we’re working to address the crisis. Not only does premature birth cost society more than $26 billion a year, it takes a high toll on families. And babies born even just several weeks before term are at risk of severe health problems and lifelong disabilities. Premature birth is the number 1 killer of newborns.

The time between pregnancies, known as interpregnancy interval (IPI), is crucial and can help pregnant moms avoid adverse birth outcomes, according to a recent study. Preterm birth, low birth weight and infant mortalities have each been repeatedly shown to follow a strong relation to the time interval between pregnancies.

As a principle investigator of the Influence of interpregnancy interval on neonatal morbidity study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology in March 2015, we found neonatal morbidity requiring admission to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) was lowest when the baby was born following an interpregnancy interval of 12 to 24 months compared to short periods of time between pregnancies of less than six months. Ideally to protect the baby’s health, the length of time between pregnancies should be 12 months or more. Women who become pregnant sooner than 12-18 months following the prior birth are more likely to deliver prematurely, which poses greater risks to the baby’s health.  The most significant [birth] risks are associated with the shortest birth intervals.

The study also found that African American women tend to have shorter intervals between births compared with women of other races. Almost 17 percent of African American babies are born prematurely each year because of preterm labor. While proper birth spacing is critical, additional factors contribute to a high preterm birth and infant mortality rate—including cigarette smoking, multiple births and medical complications like hypertension and diabetes.

Although many women believe they are naturally protected from pregnancy soon after birth, it is possible to get pregnant even within the first month after delivering a baby.  Physicians recommend waiting at least 6-8 weeks after delivery, two months before having intercourse; however this study supports the importance of family planning and access to birth control methods for at least the first 12 months after a birth.

Our collaborative team of obstetricians provides prenatal and postpartum care. If you have questions about birth spacing, prenatal care, optimizing your health before or during pregnancy, our multi-specialized team is here to be your health care partner.

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