Thinking about pregnancy after premature birth
Even if you do everything right, you can still have a baby born too early. You know this is true if you've already had a premature baby—a baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
You may be thinking about getting pregnant again, and you want your full 9 months this time. Just because you've already had a premature baby, it doesn't mean your next baby will be born early.
Your health care provider may not know why your baby was born early. Sometimes labor starts early without any warning. Other times providers have to deliver a baby early if a mother's health or the baby's health is in danger.
There may be things you and your health care provider can do to help you stay pregnant longer. It's best to talk to your provider about these things before you get pregnant again.
Do you need to go to a special provider for care when you get pregnant again?
When you’re ready to get pregnant again, talk to your provider about seeing a specialist who is trained to care for women who are likely to have pregnancy complications, including premature birth. These doctors are sometimes called maternal-fetal medicine specialists. Your provider can help you find a specialist.
What can you do to reduce your chances of giving birth early again?
No one knows for sure what causes a woman to have a premature baby. But there are some risk factors that make a woman more likely to have her baby too early. A risk factor is a known reason why something could go wrong. Some risk factors are things you can’t change, such as already having had a baby born too early. But other risk factors are things you can do something about, such as quitting smoking.
Here are some risk factors that you do can something about. Talk to your health care provider about these risk factors. Learn more about what you can do to help you stay pregnant longer next time.
Risk factor: Getting pregnant too soon after having a baby
What you can do: Before getting pregnant again, wait at least 18 to 23 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again. This gives your body time to recover. See your health care provider before you get pregnant and tell him you’re trying to get pregnant again.
Risk factor: Having certain health conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure
What you can do: See your provider before you get pregnant again. Ask about treatments for your health conditions.
Risk factor: Having an infection during pregnancy
What you can do: Wash your hands well with soap and water after using the bathroom or blowing your nose. Call your provider if you feel burning when you go to the bathroom. Once you're pregnant, use a condom so you don't get a sexually transmitted infection, like HIV or herpes.
Risk factor: Being very overweight or not weighing enough
What you can do: Talk to your provider about getting to a healthy weight. Eat healthy foods and exercise or do something active every day. When you do get pregnant, talk to your provider about your weight gain during pregnancy.
Risk factor: Smoking, drinking alcohol or using street drugs
What you can do: Quit. Stay away from situations or places, like parties or bars, where you may smoke, drink alcohol or take street drugs. Ask your provider about programs that can help you quit.
What can you do about preterm labor?
Learn the signs of preterm labor and what to do if they happen to you. Preterm labor is labor that begins before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Where can I talk to other women like me who are thinking about pregnancy after having a premature baby?
Visit the March of Dimes online community Share Your Story.
For more information
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
CDC Show Your Love Campaign
Last reviewed January 2013
See also: Progesterone treatment to prevent preterm birth, Reduce your risk of preterm labor, Signs of preterm labor, Medicines for preterm labor
Frequently Asked Questions
Can dad's exposure to chemicals harm his future kids?
Dad's exposure to harmful chemicals and substances before conception or during his partner's pregnancy can affect his children. Harmful exposures can include drugs (prescription, over-the-counter and illegal drugs), alcohol, cigarettes, cigarette smoke, chemotherapy and radiation. They also include exposure to lead, mercury and pesticides.
Unlike mom's exposures, dad's exposures do not appear to cause birth defects. They can, however, damage a man's sperm quality, causing fertility problems and miscarriage. Some exposures may cause genetic changes in sperm that may increase the risk of childhood cancer. Cancer treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation, can seriously alter sperm, at least for a few months post treatment. Some men choose to bank their sperm to preserve its integrity before they receive treatment. If you have a question about a specific exposure, contact the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists at www.mothertobaby.org/.
I've been diagnosed with PCOS. Can I get pregnant?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a medical condition that can affect a woman's menstrual cycle, hormones, heart, blood vessels, appearance (especially excessive hair growth) and the ability to have children. Although women do make small levels of androgens, also called male hormones, women with PCOS typically have high levels of androgens. This creates a hormonal disorder that affects ovulation and fertility. PCOS can cause many infertility cases. However, with the right treatment, many women have been able to get pregnant.
Women with PCOS often have trouble keeping a healthy weight. Having a healthy weight and increasing physical activity will help maintain ovulation and fertility. It'll also help prevent other complications like diabetes and heart disease. Your health care provider might consider the following treatments to help you get pregnant.
- Medications to help improve insulin resistance and ovulation
- Medication to induce ovulation
My menstrual period is irregular. Can I get pregnant?
Every woman's menstrual cycle is different. Some women have their cycle like clockwork. Others have trouble knowing when it's going to happen. If you have only slight variations from month to month, but you have your menstrual period at least once every 25 to 35 days, this could be normal. However, if your cycle is absent for more than 2 months, you bleed too little or too much and you can't predict when it's going to happen, talk to your health provider. Having an irregular menstrual cycle may mean that ovulation isn't happening or it's happening only a few times a year. This will affect your ability to get pregnant. Your health provider will probably check your thyroid, pituitary and adrenal glands. After a checkup your health provider will discuss your treatment options.