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Among the risk factors:
-Lack of prenatal care to be sure the mother-to-be is adequately nourished and getting proper care for pregnancy-harming conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or infections.
-Smoking and alcohol use.
-Pregnancy before age 16 and after 35, or pregnancies spaced too closely, less than two years apart.
-Carrying twins or more.
-In wealthy nations, early elective inductions and cesarean sections.
Sunday's report is believed the first region-by-region estimate of prematurity, but it undercounts the problem by examining only singleton births to mostly healthy women, Howson said. As a result, it estimates 480,000 preemies are born in the U.S. and Canada each year when more precise U.S. government figures put that total at more than half a million in this country alone.
Whatever the precise number, the point is to increase research into the problem and note the simple steps to lessen preventable risks today, Howson said.
"What leads to a healthy outcome or adverse outcome are factors that begin far before that third trimester," he said, stressing care for infections and chronic conditions, better diet and family planning so the mom-to-be is healthier before she conceives. "We as an international community must think more upstream."
On the Net:
March of Dimes: http://www.marchofdimes.com/
World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/en/
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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