November is Prematurity Awareness Month. In the US, 1 in 8 babies are born prematurely.
Although there are many reasons and risk factors for prematurity, staying healthy during pregnancy is a very crucial step to keep a woman and unborn baby as healthy as possible, which increases the chances of carrying a baby full term. From the first week of pregnancy to the 40th, it’s important to take care of yourself so you can take care of your baby.
A key to protecting the health of an unborn child is to get regular prenatal care, as early in the pregnancy as possible. Throughout a pregnancy, a health care provider will check on health of mom while also checking on the growth and development of the baby. This may include weight, blood pressure, measurements, listening to the fetal heartbeat, blood and urine tests, as well as ultrasounds.
Nutrition is another crucial factor to keep in mind when eating for two. Contrary to common belief, a healthy pregnancy typically only needs about 300 extra calories a day, and this is mostly just during the 3rd trimester when baby is growing quickly. Of course healthy eating is always important, but especially so during pregnancy! It is important to make sure calories come from nutritious foods that will help in baby’s growth and development. Try to maintain a well-balanced diet that incorporates dietary guidelines, such as lean meats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. It is also important to make sure mom and baby are getting more of the essential nutrients needed during pregnancy, such as calcium, iron, and folic acid, so discussing any supplements (such as prenatal vitamins) with your Dr. is a necessary step.
Drinking enough fluids can be difficult, especially when experiencing nausea. However, a woman’s blood volume increases dramatically during pregnancy, and drinking enough water each day can help prevent some problems, such as dehydration and premature contractions. Drinking water, instead of sugar sweetened beverages, is the healthiest choice.
A woman’s health care provider can discuss any activity restrictions and guidelines if necessary, but during a healthy pregnancy, exercise is extremely beneficial. Regular exercise can help prevent excessive weight gain, reduce back pain and swelling, improve energy levels and mental health, and lessen recovery time after birth.
Sleep! A woman’s body is working hard to grow a new life, so fatigue is common. Finding a comfortable position can be difficult, especially as a pregnancy progresses. But getting enough sleep is important for every body system for mom and growing baby. Using extra pillows to support body parts and lying on your side with knees bent is likely to be more comfortable as the belly grows.
Of course, it’s also critical to avoid certain things that put both mom and baby at risk for not only premature birth, but also other issues.
There is no “safe amount” of alcohol or drugs to consume during pregnancy. Using drugs and alcohol during pregnancy is one of the most common known causes of mental and physical birth defects. It is absolutely critical not to drink or use drugs at any time during pregnancy.
Maternal smoking rates are, sadly, very high in Meigs County. A pregnant woman who continues to smoke passes the nicotine and carbon monoxide to the growing baby. Risks of smoking during pregnancy include miscarriage and stillbirth, prematurity, low birth weight, SIDS, asthma and other respiratory problems. There are many resources out there to help people quit smoking. The Meigs County Health Department has a certified tobacco treatment specialist, who can be reached by calling 740-992-6626. Also, the Ohio Department of Health has a Tobacco Quit Line, 1-800-QUIT-NOW. For more information on prematurity and healthy pregnancy, visit www.marchofdimes.org
Juli Simpson, RN, BSN, LSN, is Maternal & Child Health Program Director for the Meigs County Health Department.