In a study that might prove helpful eventually, researchers hoping to figure out some of the underlying risk factors among mothers who deliver early studied 3,000 first-time moms in New Zealand and Australia. About five percent of these women gave birth before the 37-week mark or at least three weeks early (most babies are born within 37 to 42 weeks and births before 37 weeks are considered early). Since the biggest risk factor for preterm birth, according to Dr. Erin Clark at the University of Utah Health Sciences center, is a history of preterm birth, researchers have been hard-pressed to find any tenable way to predict whether first-time moms will deliver early. The study pointed to a few risk factors, which included having a sister or mother who gave birth to a baby with low birth weight, as well as a maternal history of diabetes or preeclampsia. The real eyebrow-raisers, however, were shorter cervical length and marijuana use prior to pregnancy.
There's no need to freak out and flush all your pot down the toilet yet (you must have friends that would appreciate a nice gift) — not even interim medical director for March of Dimes Dr. Michael Katz expressed any urgent concern.
I would not attribute much importance to that other than, 'Ok, it's an observation.' Certainly, if you were a woman trying to become pregnant and you asked me 'Should I use marijuana?' My answer would be 'no'.
I mean, what's he going to say. "New moms everywhere, hear me, hear me — I, a certified medical doctor, encourage you all to smoke as much weed as will fill your lungs in several hearty bong rips. In fact, I'm smoking right this very moment [cough, cough, ack, heh heh heh]!" Katz explained that it's still not clear whether there is some underlying mechanism with marijuana that helps trigger preterm births, or that pot-smoking moms-to-be are simply more prone to unhealthy behaviors. Like having Totino's pizza roll eating contests with their reflections or watching Howard the Duck more than ½ time.
Despite the study's best efforts, obstetricians' ability, says Clark, "to predict preterm birth remains sub-optimal." Medicine tried, everyone — it tried really, really hard, but, darn it all to heck, this predicting stuff is tricky. Moreover, according to the CDC, most women who deliver preterm have no known risk factors, which is part of the reason why it's so important for researchers to keep looking for risk factors. This study, unfulfilling though it may be, at least offers some intriguing culprits for preterm birth.
Image via Elena Ioachim/Shutterstock.