Wash your hands for National Handwashing Awareness Week

08
Dec
Posted by Lauren

The easiest way to stop the spread of germs is to wash your hands. You should wash your hands before and after many activities, such as when you are preparing foods or eating, after you use the bathroom, and after changing diapers or helping your child use the toilet. The simple act of washing your hands can help protect you and others from germs.

Is there really a benefit to washing hands?

You may not be able to see the germs on your hands, but they can lead to illness. Think of hand washing as your daily vaccine for staying healthy. If you’re pregnant or thinking about pregnancy, washing your hands can help protect you from viruses and infections, like CMV and toxoplasmosis. These viruses can cause problems during pregnancy.

Washing your hands is easy, just follow these easy steps:

  • Wet your hands with clean water and apply soap.
  • Rub your hands together to lather the soap. Be sure you get the back of your hands as well.
  • Scrub! And sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice to be sure you are scrubbing long enough.
  • Rinse your hands well.
  • And dry.

If you don’t have soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Just be sure to check the label. Hand sanitizers are good in a pinch, but they don’t get rid of all types of germs, so hand washing is still the best way to stay healthy.

Have questions? Email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Holiday stress and fatigue

06
Dec
Posted by Sara

If you’re pregnant during the holiday season, you may feel even more stressed and exhausted than usual.  Traveling, visiting family, cooking, shopping, parties, and preparing for a newborn—your to-do list just keeps getting longer and longer. But during your busy holiday season, remember that it’s important to take care of yourself too!

So what can you do to try to relieve your holiday stress and fatigue? Here are some tips:

  • Rest when you can during the day and try to take a few breaks to renew your energy. If you have some free time between wrapping gifts, put your feet up, read a book or magazine, or watch your favorite TV show. Even just a 15 minute break can help you relax before your next task.
  • Take a walk. Exercise can refresh and invigorate you. If you’re shopping for gifts, walk an extra loop around the mall before you head out to your car. Or park further away in the parking lot–this way you can also avoid some of the awful holiday traffic.
  • Try to limit unhealthy snacks. That can be really tough during the holidays with so many delicious desserts and treats. But too much sugar and heavy meals can drain your energy. It’s still important to make sure that you get enough fruits, vegetables, and foods high in iron and protein. And be sure to drink enough fluids—water is usually best, but you can check out some fun non-alcoholic drink ideas here and here.
  • Keep your scheduled prenatal care appointments. Even if you’re feeling fine, you need to check in with your health care provider. And don’t forget to take your prenatal vitamin.
  • Ask for help. Accept help when a friend or family member offers and ask for help if you are feeling tired or overwhelmed.
  • Cut back on activities you don’t need to do. Instead of spending time making a holiday dessert, why not have your favorite bakery do it for you.

And finally, take a deep breath and enjoy the holiday season!

Have questions? Email AskUs@marchofdimes.org

What’s the best way to protect against the flu this season?

04
Dec
Posted by Lauren

Answer: an annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect against this potentially serious disease. And the good news is that it’s safe to get the flu shot during pregnancy.

Is the vaccine effective at preventing the flu?

Each year the CDC conducts studies to determine how effective the flu vaccine is at protecting against flu illness. It is important to note that the vaccine effectiveness can vary from season to season and depending on who is being vaccinated.

What are the benefits?

  • The flu shot can keep you from getting the flu. And the vaccine can’t cause the flu.
  • It’s safe to get the flu shot any time during pregnancy. But it’s best to get it now because flu season is October through May.
  • Getting vaccinated during pregnancy can also protect your baby after he is born and before he is able to receive his own vaccination.
  • There are different flu viruses and they’re always changing, so each year a new flu vaccine is made to protect you against three of four flu viruses that are likely to make you sick.
  • Getting the vaccine is easy. You can get the shot from your health care provider, and many pharmacies and work places offer it each fall. Use the HealthMap Vaccine Finder to find out where you can get the flu vaccine.
  • Need more reasons to get your flu shot? We have 10 right here.

Should you get the flu vaccination?

Yes! Everyone six months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season. However there are exceptions. There are some people who cannot get the flu shot and others who should talk to their health care provider before getting the flu shot.

For more information on the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, visit here.

Have questions? Text or email AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

HIV and pregnancy: what you need to know

01
Dec
Posted by Sara

More than 1 million people in the United States live with HIV. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS.  HIV attacks specific cells in the body’s immune system. The immune system helps to fight off infections. Even with treatment, it is not possible for HIV to be eliminated completely from the body. So once you get HIV, you have it for life.

Over time, HIV can destroy so many cells in the immune system that the body can’t fight off infections and disease anymore. When this happens, HIV can lead to AIDS.

How is HIV spread?

You get HIV by coming in direct contact with body fluids from a person who is infected with HIV. This includes blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. So HIV can be spread:

  • By having unprotected sex with a person who has HIV. Both men and women can spread HIV. Most new HIV infections in women come from having sex with a man who is infected. Women are more likely than men to get infected through sex.
  • Through contact with an HIV-infected person’s blood. This can happen when sharing needles, accidentally getting stuck by a needle with a person’s blood on it, or contact with other body fluids containing blood.
  • From mother to baby. This is called perinatal transmission. Babies can get HIV from their mothers:
    • Before birth, when the virus crosses the placenta and infects the baby.
    • During labor and delivery from contact with their mother’s blood and vaginal fluids.
    • Through breastfeeding.

Testing for HIV

Approximately 18% of all people with HIV do not know their HIV status. This means that many women who are infected with HIV may not know they have it. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends HIV testing for all pregnant women unless they say that they do NOT want to be tested. HIV testing is typically done during the first prenatal care appointment. The CDC also recommends getting tested again, later in pregnancy, if you’re at risk for getting HIV.

Preventing transmission of HIV during pregnancy

There are ways to reduce the chances of passing HIV to your baby. If HIV is detected as early as possible during pregnancy or before pregnancy you can:

  • Get treatment with medicines that fight HIV. If you’re pregnant and have HIV, you can get medicine to reduce the risk of passing HIV to your baby and to protect your own health. HIV medicines are recommended for everyone infected with HIV and most are safe to use during pregnancy.
  • Have a scheduled cesarean delivery (sometimes called a c-section).
  • Make sure your baby receives HIV medicines for 4 to 6 weeks after birth. This reduces the risk of infection from any HIV that may have entered your baby’s body during birth.
  • Don’t breastfeed.

If you’re pregnant, get tested for HIV. Proper treatment can significantly reduce your chances of passing HIV to your baby.

Have questions? Email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Diabetes during pregnancy: a risk factor premature birth

29
Nov
Posted by Sara

Diabetes is a serious health concern, especially when left untreated. About 9 out of 100 women in the U.S. have diabetes – a condition in which your body has too much sugar (called glucose) in the blood. You can develop diabetes at any time in your life.

Seven out of every 100 pregnant women (7 percent) develop diabetes during pregnancy, also called gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after you give birth. But if you have it in one pregnancy, you’re more likely to have it in your next pregnancy. You’re also more likely to develop diabetes later in life.

Having diabetes or gestational diabetes can cause you to go into preterm labor, before 37 weeks gestation. Babies born this early can face serious health problems including long-term intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Are you at risk?

You may be more likely than other women to develop gestational diabetes if:

  • You’re older than 25.
  • You’re overweight or you gained a lot of weight during pregnancy.
  • You have a family history of diabetes. This means that one or more of your family members has diabetes.
  • You’re African-American, Native American, Asian, Hispanic or Pacific Islander. These ethnic groups are more likely to have gestational diabetes than other groups.
  • You had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy.
  • In your last pregnancy, you gave birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 1/2 pounds or was stillborn.

You can develop gestational diabetes even if you don’t have any of these risk factors. This is why your health care provider tests you for gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

How do you know if you have gestational diabetes?

If you’re pregnant, you will get a glucose tolerance test at 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy, or earlier if your provider thinks you’re likely to develop gestational diabetes. You may have heard of other pregnant women having to drink an 8oz cup of a thick syrupy drink – this is part of the glucose tolerance test, along with measuring your blood glucose levels.

What else can you do?

If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, talk to your health care provider. Getting diabetes under control could help prevent preterm labor and premature birth. Being active, eating healthy foods that are low in sugar and losing weight may help reduce your chances of developing diabetes later in life.

Learn more about managing pre-existing diabetes and gestational diabetes.  And, as always, visit your health care provider before and during pregnancy.

Have questions? Text or email AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Breastfeeding your baby in the NICU can be challenging

27
Nov
Posted by Lauren

Many babies, even those born very premature can learn to breastfeed. Breast milk provides many health benefits for all newborns, but especially for premature or sick babies in the NICU. Feeding a premature baby may be much different than what you had planned. If you must pump, you may feel disappointed that you are not able to feed your warm baby on your breast. But, providing breast milk for your preemie is something special and beneficial that you can give him.

Here are tips to help you breastfeed your premature baby while in the NICU.

If your baby is unable to feed or latch:

• Start pumping as soon as you can to establish your milk supply. Ask a nurse for a pump and assistance.

• If your baby is tube feeding, your baby’s nurse can show you how to give your baby his feedings.

• Pump frequently, 8 to 12 times during a 24 hour span of time.

• Practice skin to skin or kangaroo care if your nurse says it is ok. Both are beneficial, even if your baby is connected to machines and tubes.

If your baby is able to suckle:

• Ask to feed him in a quiet, darkened room, away from the beeping machines and bright lights.

• Many mothers find the cross cradle position very helpful for feedings. Start with kangaroo care. Then position the baby across your lap, turned in towards you, chest to chest. Use a pillow to bring him to the level of your breast if you need to.

• Babies born early need many opportunities at the breast to develop feeding skills regardless of gestational age. This requires practice and patience.

• You may need increased support to breastfeed your premature baby. Look for support from your nurses, the hospital’s lactation consultant, friends or family.

Not every tip will work for every mom. Try to find the feeding methods and solutions that work best for you and your baby. More information on how to feed your baby in the NICU can be found here.

If you have questions about how to feed your baby, email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Collecting your family health history

22
Nov
Posted by Sara

While you’re gathered with your family this holiday, remember that Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to record your family’s health history. Your family health history is a record of any health conditions and treatments that you, your partner and everyone in both of your families have had. It can help you find out about medical problems that run in your family that may affect your pregnancy and your baby.

Taking your family health history can help you make important health decisions. It can help you learn about the health of your baby even before he’s born! Knowing about health conditions before or early in pregnancy can help you and your health care provider decide on treatments and care for your baby.

How to collect your family health history

Talk to your family. You can use our family health history form to help you. Print out a few copies and pass them around to your family over Thanksgiving. Have family members add as much information as they can about their health and the health of their parents, grandparents and other family members. Try to get a form from everyone in your family and your partner’s family.

Ask questions. Ask relatives what diseases they have had and when they were diagnosed. Make sure you ask about conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, intellectual disabilities, cancer, and repeat pregnancy loss. Also, find out about your ethnic background is. Knowing what countries or regions your ancestors came from is important because some diseases, like sickle cell and Tay-Sachs, run in people from certain backgrounds or parts of the world.

Update the information regularly. Keeping track of your health history never stops. Add to it as your family grows and changes. To help make sure that your history is up to date, keep copies of:

How to use your family health history

Once you’ve got it, share it! Show it to:

  • Your provider at your preconception checkup or your first prenatal care appointment. Your provider uses it to see if health conditions run in your family. This can help him figure out if you’re likely to pass a condition to your baby during pregnancy.
  • Your family members. It’s great information for everyone in your family. It’s really helpful for someone who’s pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant.

If you learn that your family has a health condition that gets passed from parent to child, you may want to see a genetic counselor. This is a person who is trained to help you understand about how genes, birth defects and other medical conditions run in families, and how they can affect your health and your baby’s health. Your provider can help you find a genetic counselor, or you can contact the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

Have questions? Text or email AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Home from the NICU: how to handle visitors and trips outside

20
Nov
Posted by Lauren

You’ve finally brought your baby home from the NICU and you’re looking forward to taking her out into the world and introducing her to your friends and family. But before you send out a group text telling everyone to come on over, we have some tips to keep in mind.

Since babies who have stayed in the NICU have a greater chance of getting infections than other babies, you want to take steps to keep them healthy. Here are some things you can do:

  • Limit the number of people who come to your home.
  • Ask visitors to wash their hands before touching your baby.
  • Do not let visitors smoke in your home or near your baby.
  • Do not let adults or children who are sick, have a fever or who may have been exposed to an illness near your baby. Any adult who will have contact with your baby should get a pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine.
  • Do not take your newborn to crowded places like shopping malls and grocery stores.

This does not mean that you can’t invite people to your home or that you have to stay in your house for the first months after your baby comes home. It’s fine to take your baby for walks outside in nice weather and go visit friends or family members. Just make sure your baby is going to a smoke-free and illness-free home.

If you have questions about your child’s health or condition, especially if your baby has medical equipment at home, reach out to your baby’s health care provider. She will be the ideal person to advise you.

Life at home after the NICU can be challenging, but you may find that you have new strength. And there is much to celebrate. Share your baby’s birth story and get support from other families on Share Your Story. Your experience and story will resonate with others as well as provide you with encouragement as you create new memories at home.

World Prematurity Day: Why it matters

17
Nov
Posted by Sara

In the United States,

About every eight seconds, a baby is born.

Every hour, about three babies die.

African-American infants are more than two times as likely as white infants to die before their first birthday.

About one in ten infants is born preterm (less than 37 weeks gestation).

About every 1½ minutes, a baby is born with low birthweight (less than 5 pounds 8 ounces).

Prematurity/low birthweight and related conditions account for more infant deaths than any other single cause (about 1 in 3).

Every year, about 4,400 babies are born weighing less than one pound.

Premature birth is birth that happens too soon, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Each year 15 million babies worldwide are born prematurely and more than a million die as a result. Babies born too early may face life-threatening complications and have lifelong health problems. Today, in honor of World Prematurity Day, we are raising awareness of this serious health crisis.

We don’t always know what causes preterm labor and premature birth. Sometimes labor starts on its own without warning. Even if you do everything right during pregnancy, you can still give birth early. However, there are some things that you can do to reduce your risk for preterm labor and premature birth.

  • Schedule a preconception checkup with your health care provider. A preconception checkup helps your health care provider make sure that your body is ready for pregnancy.
  • Get to a healthy weight before pregnancy and gain the right amount of weight during pregnancy.
  • Wait at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again. Use birth control until you’re ready to get pregnant again.
  • Get treated for health conditions, like high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and thyroid problems.
  • Protect yourself from infections. Get vaccinated, wash your hands frequently, and don’t eat raw meat, fish or eggs. Have safe sex.
  • Reduce your stress. Eat healthy foods and do something active every day.
  • Don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or use street drugs. Ask your provider about programs that can help you quit. Tell your provider about any medicines you take, with or without a prescription.
  • Go to all your prenatal care checkups, even if you’re feeling fine. Prenatal care helps your provider make sure you and your baby are healthy.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of preterm labor. This won’t reduce your risk of preterm labor but it will allow you to get treatment quickly and that may help stop your labor.

There is no single cause of premature birth and therefore there is no simple solution. The March of Dimes is working towards giving every mom the opportunity to have a healthy pregnancy and every baby the chance to survive and thrive.

What does it mean to have a short cervix?

15
Nov
Posted by Lauren

A short cervix means the length of your cervix is shorter than normal. To be more specific, a short cervix is one that is shorter than 25 millimeters (about 1 inch) before 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Why is the length important?

If you have a short cervix, you have a 1-in-2 chance (50 percent) of having a premature birth, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. So if you have a short cervix and you’re pregnant with just one baby, your health care provider may recommend these treatments to help you stay pregnant longer:

  • Cerclage
  • Vaginal progesterone. Progesterone is a hormone that helps prepare your body for pregnancy. It may help prevent premature birth if you have a short cervix and you’re pregnant with just one baby. You insert it in your vagina every day starting before or up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, and you stop taking it just before 37 weeks.

If your provider thinks you have a short cervix, she may check you regularly with ultrasound.

How do you know if you have a short cervix?

Checking for a short cervix is not a routine prenatal test. Your provider probably doesn’t check your cervical length unless:

  • She has a reason to think it may be short.
  • You have signs of preterm labor. This is labor that begins too soon, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
  • You have risk factors for premature birth, like you had a premature birth in the past or you have a family history of premature birth (premature birth runs in your family).

What makes a cervix short?

Many things can affect the length of your cervix, including:

  • Having an overdistended (stretched or enlarged) uterus
  • Problems caused by bleeding during pregnancy or inflammation (irritation) of the uterus
  • Infection
  • Cervical insufficiency

Read about our own Health Education Specialist Juviza’s personal experience being pregnant with a short cervix and her new connection to the March of Dimes’ mission.

Have questions? Text or email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.