All of us know someone who has had a baby born prematurely. Sometimes, that ends in terrible grief. Sometimes, it’s the reason for chronic health problems such as lung disease and cerebral palsy. Sometimes, science and the people caring for a baby are able to triumph with saving a tiny one’s life.
Unfortunately, preterm birth – before 37 weeks of pregnancy – has increased about 28 percent since 1981. The goodnews is that our health habits have improved, rather than the other way around. The increase is mainly due to women waiting until later in life to have babies, and an increase in multiple births. Many people mistakenly attribute poor choices in behavior while pregnant to the cause of a premature baby when that simply isn’t the case. And while medicine has advanced significantly in the care of newborns, not many changes have been made to better keep premature labor from occurring – or stopping it.
For Prematurity Awareness Month in November, here are some ways you can keep any babies you conceive as snug as you can. But if something happens, know it wasn’t your fault.
What You Can Do
Make sure you receive early prenatal care. Visit your obstetrician as soon as you know you are pregnant, or are trying to get pregnant. An OB can guide you to make healthy choices, eat right, and screen for any infections that could be detrimental.
Take prenatal vitamins. Even before you conceive, the folic acid in the vitamins can prevent neural-tube defects that can occur very early in prenatal development. Research also shows that folic acid can help avoid the placenta separating from the uterus wall, as well as high blood pressure during pregnancy. Those two issues alone are cause for about 20 percent of premature deliveries.
Be aware of the risk. Certain factors will mean your pregnancy could result in a premature delivery. These include smoking or drug use, high blood pressure, diabetes, an infection, and carrying multiple babies. Women close to 40 or older also have a higher risk of early delivery, as do black women.
Get tested for infection. Recent studies show that infections in the uterus often start in your vagina or cervix, and might be the reason more than half of early deliveries occur. Mainly because as your body fights infection, the area becomes inflamed, and that increase in size then triggers the body to think it’s time to begin labor contractions.
Make time for the dentist. Gum disease can affect your body the same way a uterine infection can – tissues swell and the body takes it as a sign to begin labor. A solid cleaning around the gum line can help you avoid an infection in your gums during pregnancy.
Eat a good meal. The right nutrition during pregnancy can help your baby develop well. Aim for whole-wheat carbs, lots of lean protein, full-fat dairy (good for baby!), and as many fruits and veggies as you can handle. Calcium and vitamin C might be key in preventing preterm labor so stock up on milk, yogurt, and citrus fruits and juice.
Get out there and exercise. It doesn’t have to be overdone and make you feel exhausted. A brisk walk every day can help your blood pressure, reducing your chances for gestational diabetes and lessening blood pressure levels that would cause a problem for you and your baby. You can also check out swimming (feels amaaaazing to get that weight off your back), and yoga.
Make sure your doctor knows. If you’ve had a preterm delivery before, you might be eligible to take a hormone that can help reduce your risk of it happening again.
Known the signs. And of course, understanding and recognizing the signs of early labor can be key to getting help. Feeling cramps similar to your period, pain in your back that moves to the front of your belly, fluid leaking from your vagina, lower back ache, pressure in your pelvis, and contraction pain happening around every ten minutes are all signs of labor. Even if you aren’t sure if that feeling or that pain might be labor, call your doctor, because it’s always better to check.
With all of this information, remember that 80 percent of pregnant women with symptoms of preterm labor do not deliver early. And even if it’s something that happens, once a baby reaches the 30-week mark, between 90 and 95 percent survive, and most grow into healthy adults. If you think you might be pregnant, are trying to conceive, or just want to know more about your options, please contact us anytime at 717-747-3099 or click on the button below.
Dr. Melanie Ochalski
P.S. If you’d rather find out more about us before getting in touch, you can check out our free webinar here.