Preventing Premature Births

About 1 in 10 babies are born prematurely: born before 37 weeks of pregnancy and before they have time to gain weight and fully develop their lungs. Many preterm births are unexplainable, says Nelson Echebiri, M.D., obstetrician-gynecologist with Meritus Medical Group's Women’s Health Center.

Despite its unpredictability, women should take note of the following possible causes of preterm births:

  • Previous premature birth
  • Becoming pregnant soon after having a baby
  • Pregnant with twins or more
  • Cervix or uterus problems
  • Being overweight or underweight
  • High blood pressure
  • Stress or some infections including periodontal disease, urinary tract infection or kidney infection
  • Smoking and substance abuse

Dr. Echebiri considers previous premature births as the strongest risk factor for future preterm births.

If you have any of these risk factors, it’s important to seek care from a physician, like Dr. Echebiri, who has experience in high-risk pregnancies. He may prescribe progesterone or perform a cervical cerclage, a procedure that uses stitches to close the cervix, as treatments to prevent preterm births.

Warning signs of preterm labor

“It’s hard to tell the difference between false and real labor contractions even by looking at the duration or intensity,” says Dr. Echebiri. However, women should pay close attention to pelvic pressure, low-dull backache, menstrual cramp-like sensation and a bloody vaginal discharge.

If you have any of these symptoms, call your provider right away or go to the emergency room “Talking to a physician is always better than making a decision on your own,” says Dr. Echebiri. Women’s Health Center has a physician on call after office hours for emergencies.

Prenatal care pointers

If you’re planning to become pregnant, make an appointment with an OB-GYN right away. Physicians will review your medical history and determine any risks to a woman’s pregnancy outcome. “It’s important for all women of childbearing age to take prenatal vitamins which contain folic acid before they become pregnant,” says Dr. Echebiri. “This will help prevent brain and spine abnormalities.”

If you smoke, he strongly advises women planning to become pregnant or already pregnant to stop smoking. “Quitting at any time during the pregnancy will help your baby,” says Dr. Echebiri. Women’s Health Center staff provide smoking cessation assistance.

A Special Care Nursery for babies born too soon

When babies are born too soon, they need help breathing, eating, staying warm and maintaining their blood pressure. Meritus Medical Center’s special care nursery cares for babies born as early as 32 weeks. Board-certified neonatologists provide around-the-clock care to premature newborns and a team of specially trained nurses help babies grow. The nurses also spend time educating parents on their babies’ special needs.

Each year, Meritus Health’s Family Birthing Center staff participate in the March for Babies walk to benefit the March of Dimes. If you would like to contribute to the Meritus Health team go to

If you’re looking for an obstetrician-gynecologist, call Women’s Health Center at Robinwood at 301-714-4100 to meet with one of our qualified providers.