As we near the finish line of 2023 and look forward to the new year, a look at the future seems appropriate. If your future involves getting pregnant or starting a family, what do you need to know to ensure a successful pregnancy and delivery? With premature birth rates on the rise, how do you reduce your risk? A premature, or preterm birth, is when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies born prematurely have an increased risk of breathing problems, feeding difficulties, developmental delay, cerebral palsy, and vision and hearing problems. With a grade of D- on the 2022 March of Dimes report card, Tennessee’s preterm birth rate of 11.4 percent is concerning. So, what can you do to reduce your risk?
First, if you are planning to get pregnant, a visit with your primary care and an OBGYN is a great first step. It’s valuable to learn your family’s history to help you and your provider know what to expect during pregnancy. A thorough family history can provide insight to medical conditions or concerns that increase the risk of premature birth. Although a premature birth can still happen when no risk factors are present, some common risk factors may include delivering a premature baby previously, being pregnant with multiples, tobacco and/or substance use, and fewer than 18 months between pregnancies. There are some pregnancy complications that can result in a preterm birth, but regular prenatal visits with your OBGYN can help detect and manage potential risk factors that might lead to premature birth.
In addition to eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of rest, drinking water and staying physically active, women of childbearing age should take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily (or 1000 micrograms if you are a diabetic). Folic acid is used to make new cells, and has been shown to help prevent neural tube defects in a growing baby’s brain and spine. Folic acid also can help prevent a type of anemia that affects the health of the placenta. It is important to note that smoking, drinking alcohol, using certain drugs, stressful or abusive environments, and working or living around toxic substances can contribute to preterm births. Lastly, guard your mental health. While we all feel negative emotions from time to time, if feelings of sadness, anxiety or stress do not go away or interfere with your life, talk to your provider about getting help.
Some signs of premature labor are contractions (getting closer together and stronger), changes in vaginal discharge, low back pain, pressure in the lower abdomen, and spotting or bleeding. “If you have signs of preterm labor, it is important to call your health care provider immediately. The doctors and nurses at the Family Birthing Center are available 24 hours a day to evaluate your symptoms and determine if you are in preterm labor,” said Lora Irwin, OB Clinical Educator with Blount Memorial Hospital’s Family Birthing Center.
For more information about birthing classes and programs, click here or call 865-977-5555.