Premature birth is the #1 killer of newborns during the first month of life. Each year 20 million babies–half of a million of them in the US– are born premature. A baby that is born too early is not fully developed and thus cannot even suck and/or breathe on his/her own. It’s simply heartbreaking.
For those that survive the first year, all too many end up facing serious health challenges and lifelong disabilities. What is alarming is the fact that the rate of premature birth is increasing (i.e., it has increased 31% since 1981). In half the cases, the cause of premature birth is not known, which is why we need to unite in our effort to raise awareness, raise funding and promote research efforts to prevent premature births!
If you are a blogger, here are a couple of things you can do to help promote awareness of this crisis:
1. November is Prematurity Awareness Month®. Please grab a badge and post it on your blog for the month.
What’s premature birth got to do with perinatal mood disorders, you ask? Well, for starters, approximately 1 out of 10 women experience antepartum (antenatal, prenatal) depression (or depression during pregnancy), though unfortunately many cases go undiagnosed. Research has shown that preterm births are twice as likely to occur for women suffering from prenatal depression (or depression during pregnancy). To complicate matters, antidepressants to treat prenatal depression have also been shown to contribute to premature births. And let’s not forget that there is a high risk for postpartum depression (PPD) in women who give birth to premature babies, not only for those with prenatal depression—since depression during pregnancy in most cases will follow into postpartum—but also because the amount of anxiety, stress and exhaustion caused by having a baby in the NICU for an extended period of time can lead to PPD.
In Deborah Sichel’s and Jeanne Watson Driscoll’s “Women’s Moods: What Every Woman Must Know About Hormones, the Brain, and Emotional Health” (pg 178), “Anxiety, whether mild or severe, can…..harm the fetus.” Per Sichel and Driscoll, high levels of anxiety can cause premature births, stillbirths, low birth weight babies, and other complications due to the reduced blood flow, and therefore flow of oxygen and nutrition, to the fetus that results from the constriction of arteries in the uterus when the mother experiences high levels of anxiety. You need to be aware, if you don’t already know, that the fetus is connected to you via the placenta. The fetus is basically a part of you. Just as all the nutrition you get from your food passes between you and the fetus through the placenta, medicine that you take will pass through to the fetus. Similarly, stress hormones in a woman’s bloodstream from chronic anxiety will flow through the placenta. In severe cases, stress hormones can cause blood vessels in the placenta to contract so much that it can pull away from the uterine wall, causing hemorrhaging and premature labor.
BOTTOM LINE: Depression during pregnancy can lead to premature labor and delivery, not to mention low birth weight babies. Since antepartum depression and antidepressants can cause premature births, more research is URGENTLY needed for the early detection and treatment of prenatal depression, as well as to find ways to treat prenatal depression without harming the developing baby.