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Rising Risk Of Pre-Term Birth

Tuesday is the March of Dimes' Prematurity Awareness Day, a time when the organization tries to make the public aware of the almost 500,000 premature babies born annually in America.

It's a potentially life-threatening problem that is on the rise.

Prematurity is a birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and it is the leading cause of newborn death in the first month of life.

Dr. Nancy Green, medical director for the March of Dimes, explains to Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler, "The rise in premature birth is in part due to more mothers being older when they get pregnant and more twins and triplets, but for a large part of the increase, we really don't know why. In fact, we don't know a lot of the causes of pre-term birth.

About one in eight babies in the United States is born prematurely, and many are born without warning and for no known cause, according to studies.

Green says, "One of the things that the March of Dimes is pressing for in our prematurity campaign is to drive more research to help find out some of these answers.

Babies who are born prematurely and survive often face chronic health problems and developmental disabilities.

The problem is up by 27 percent since the early 1980s, resulting in 1,305 premature babies born every day.

Green says, "We know that one of the biggest risk factors for pre-term birth is women who have already had a pre-term baby and women who carry twins or triplets are at high risk and certain medical conditions. But for the large majority, women don't necessarily have any risk factors and still give birth prematurely."

The March of Dimes recommends all women thinking of having a baby to adopt a healthy lifestyle and get a pre-pregnancy medical checkup. The organization also advises all women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms daily of the B vitamin folic acid to prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine.

Green notes, "Everybody is at risk, but you can certainly decrease your risks by being in good health, not smoking and having other healthy lifestyles and having good weight and being seen before you get pregnant and having good prenatal care. But certainly there are women who seem to do everything right, and everything is in their favor, and still end up delivering prematurely."