Prenatal health and nutrition start before pregnancy

22
Sep
Posted by Lilliam

Today’s guest post is written by Donna Dell of Mission Pharmacal on the findings of a survey, conducted in part by March of Dimes, on the importance of taking folic acid before and during pregnancy.

Did you know that taking multivitamins or vitamins containing folic acid is an important component for a healthy mom and baby?

A recent survey conducted by the March of Dimes, in partnership with Mission Pharmacal, showed that only 34 percent of women ages 18-45 started taking a prenatal vitamin or multivitamin before they knew they were pregnant, and the number drops to 27 percent for Hispanic women and to 10 percent for African-American/black women.

Taking a multivitamin containing folic acid every day before and during pregnancy can help prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine, also called neural tube defects. More than 120,000 babies — or three percent of all births — will be born with birth defects in the U.S. this year.

Here are some other key findings from the survey:

  • While, 97% of women reported taking prenatal vitamins or multivitamins during their last or current pregnancy, 36% of women of childbearing age said they are currently not taking any vitamin or mineral supplements at all.
  • 77% of all women worry that there may be changes to the healthcare system that may negatively impact access to prenatal care.
  • 43% of women who have been or are currently pregnant reported that cost affected when and whether they sought prenatal care for their pregnancy.
  • 84% of women who reported being familiar with folic acid either didn’t know (59%) or weren’t sure of the recommended amount of the nutrient is needed, in order to help have a healthy baby or pregnancy.

So, what are some steps you can take to support a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby?

  • Take a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin containing at least 400 micro-grams (mcg) of folic acid every day before pregnancy to help prevent serious birth defects.
  • If you’re thinking of having a baby, see your health care provider for a preconception checkup and talk about prescription or over-the-counter vitamins.
  • Once you are pregnant, keep getting your folic acid by taking a prenatal vitamin every day containing 600 mcg.
  • Iron, calcium, vitamin D, DHA and iodine have also been found to play a key role in a baby’s growth and development during pregnancy.
  • Folic acid comes in different forms other than vitamins. Look for the words “fortified” or “enriched” on the package label of foods such as bread, breakfast cereal, flour, pasta, and products made from corn masa, and white rice.
  • Don’t smoke or drink alcohol, and stay up-to-date on vaccines.

Please visit marchofdimes.org for the latest health information, resources and tools for moms and babies.

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

What is newborn screening?

20
Sep
Posted by Sara

Newborn screening looks for rare but serious and mostly treatable conditions. Babies with these conditions often look healthy at birth, but if the disorder is not diagnosed and treated early, a baby may develop serious health problems. Newborn screening identifies babies with these conditions so they can get the treatment that they need. Newborn screening includes blood, hearing and heart tests.

When is newborn screening done?

All babies in the United States get newborn screening before they leave the hospital, when they are 1 or 2 days old. Some states require that babies have newborn screening again, about 2 weeks later.

If your baby is not born in a hospital, talk to her provider about getting newborn screening before she is 7 days old.

What happens if your baby is in the NICU?

Babies in the NICU may require a special process for newborn screening. If your baby is born prematurely, at a low birthweight, or needs special care in the NICU, it’s possible that some of the treatments and procedures she’s receiving may affect newborn screening results. Often, babies born early will require more than one newborn screening blood draw to make sure that the results are accurate. Talk to your baby’s NICU team if you have questions about newborn screening.

How is newborn screening done?

Newborn screening is done in 3 ways:

  1. Your baby’s baby’s heel is pricked to get a few drops of blood. The blood is collected on a special paper and sent to a lab for testing. The lab then sends the results back to your baby’s health provider.
  2. For the hearing screening, the provider places a tiny, soft speaker in your baby’s ear to check how your baby responds to sound.
  3. For heart screening, a test called pulse oximetry is used. This test checks the amount of oxygen in your baby’s blood by using a sensor attached to his finger or foot. This test is used to screen babies for a heart condition called critical congenital heart disease (CCHD). CCHDs are the most severe heart defects. Babies with CCHD need treatment within the first few hours, days or months of life. Without treatment, CCHD can be deadly.

When will you get the results?

In most cases after your baby has had newborn screening, you won’t hear any more about them. Most newborn screening results are normal and if that is the case, families are not contacted. But you can always ask your baby’s health care provider for the results.

In rare cases when the screening results are out-of-range, you will receive a phone call about 2-3 weeks following the screening. This call can come from either the state newborn screening program or your baby’s health care provider and it usually means that your baby simply needs more testing.

How many health conditions should your baby be screened for?

The March of Dimes would like to see all babies in all states screened for at least 34 health conditions. Many of these health conditions can be treated if found early. Each state decides which tests are required. You can find out which conditions your state screen for here.

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

September is Infant Mortality Awareness month

18
Sep
Posted by Sara

Infant mortality is the death of a baby before his or her first birthday. According to the CDC, in 2015 the infant mortality rate in the United States was 5.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. That means that in 2015 over 23,000 infants died before their first birthday.

Causes of infant mortality

In the US, the leading causes of infant mortality are:

  1. Birth defects
  2. Premature birth and low birthweight
  3. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  4. Maternal pregnancy complications
  5. Injuries (such as suffocation).

What can you do?

Not all causes of infant mortality can be prevented. But there are some steps that you can take to reduce the risks of certain birth defects, premature birth, some pregnancy complications, and SIDS.

Take a multivitamin with 400mcg of folic acid. While there are many different types of birth defects, taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects (NTDs). Some studies show that it also may help prevent heart defects and cleft lip and palate.

Get a preconception checkup before pregnancy. Being healthy before pregnancy can help prevent pregnancy complications when you do get pregnant. Your provider can also identify any risk factors and make sure they are treated before you get pregnant.

Get early and regular prenatal care. This lets your provider make sure you and your baby are healthy. She can also identify and treat any problems that may arise during your pregnancy.

Stay at a healthy weight and be active. Getting to a healthy weight before pregnancy may help you to avoid some complications during pregnancy.

Quit smoking and avoid alcohol and street drugs. Alcohol, drugs and harmful chemicals from smoke can pass directly through the umbilical cord to your baby. This can cause serious problems during pregnancy, including miscarriage, birth defects and premature birth.

Space pregnancies at least 18 months apart. This allows your body time to fully recover from your last pregnancy before it’s ready for your next pregnancy. Getting pregnant again before 18 months can increase the chance of premature birth, low birthweight, and having a baby that is small for gestational age.

Create a safe sleeping environment for your baby. Put your baby to sleep on his or her back on a flat, firm surface (like a crib mattress). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you and your baby sleep in the same room, but not in the same bed, for the first year of your baby’s life, but at least for the first 6 months.

The March of Dimes is helping improve babies’ chances of being born healthy and staying healthy by funding research into the causes of birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

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

 

 

 

Food safety for fall

15
Sep
Posted by Lauren

When preparing food for yourself or your family, it’s important to practice safe food handling to prevent foodborne illnesses. Bacteria can invade areas and surfaces in kitchens and on foods. There are easy steps for you to take to keep your family away from harmful bacteria and enjoy meals together at the same time.

What’s the best way to clean food?

• Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.

• Wash all fruits and vegetables. Use a scrub brush. If you can’t get the skin clean, peel it off. This can help remove dirt and chemicals, like pesticides. A pesticide is a chemical used to keep bugs and other pests away from crops. Wash all fruits and vegetables, even if the package says it’s already been washed. Dry everything with a paper towel or clean cloth.

• Cut away damaged sections of fruits and vegetables.

• Wash utensils and cutting boards with hot soapy water after each use. Don’t use cutting boards made of wood. They can hold more germs than other kinds of cutting boards.

• After preparing food, clean countertops with hot soapy water.

What’s the best way to separate food?

• Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Use a different board for fruits and vegetables.

• When you’re shopping, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and their juices separate from other foods.

• Store raw meat, poultry and seafood in containers so that their juices don’t get on other foods.

What’s the best way to cook food?

• Use a food thermometer. It can help you cook food—especially meat—to a safe temperature. You may not be able to tell if a food is fully cooked by how it looks, so use these temperature guidelines here.

• When using the microwave, cover the food. Stop cooking to stir the food and rotate the dish to ensure the food’s warm all the way through.

• When reheating sauces, soups and gravies, bring them to a rolling boil.

What’s the best way to chill food?

• Keep the refrigerator at 40 F or below and the freezer at 0 F or below. If you don’t think your temperature is correct, use an appliance thermometer to check it. You can buy this kind of thermometer at hardware or home-supply stores.

• Refrigerate all fruits and vegetables that have been cut or peeled.

• Refrigerate all leftovers within 2 hours after eating. Use shallow containers so that the food cools quickly. When you’re ready to use the leftovers, eat them within 2 hours of taking them out of the refrigerator.

• Thaw meat, poultry and seafood in the refrigerator, not on the counter or in the sink.

• Don’t crowd the refrigerator. This may make it hard to keep food cool and safe.

Fall means school is in session and Halloween is around the corner. Learn important food safety tips for all your fall activities here.

If you have questions, feel free to email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

 

Just had a baby, but pregnant again?

13
Sep
Posted by Lauren

If you’ve already had a baby and are planning for more children, it’s best to wait at least 18 months between birth and getting pregnant again. Getting pregnant before 18 months increases your risk for certain health problems for your baby like premature birth, low birthweight and being small for gestations age (SGA).

We receive many questions through AskUs@marchofdimes.org from women who have become pregnant again in less than 18 months and want to know how to have a healthy pregnancy.

As soon as you learn you are pregnant schedule your first prenatal care appointment with your health care provider. After your first appointment be sure to continue to go to all of your prenatal care visits, even if you are feeling fine. If you have not already, start taking a prenatal vitamin with 600 mcg of folic acid in it every day to help prevent neural tube defects in your baby.

Experts don’t know for sure why getting pregnant again too soon increases your chances of complications like premature birth. So the best thing you can do is be prepared – know the warning signs of preterm labor:

  • Change in your vaginal discharge (watery, mucus or bloody) or more vaginal discharge than usual
  • Pressure in your pelvis or lower belly, like your baby is pushing down
  • Constant low, dull backache
  • Belly cramps with or without diarrhea
  • Regular or frequent contractions that make your belly tighten like a fist. The contractions may or may not be painful.
  • Your water breaks

If you have even one sign or symptom of preterm labor, call your health care provider right away. If you have preterm labor, getting help quickly is the best thing you can do.

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

Take care of your reproductive health

11
Sep
Posted by Sara

If you’re planning to get pregnant in the future, it’s important that you take care of your reproductive health now.

Visit your health care provider regularly

Make sure you have an annual checkup with your provider. Your provider will most likely:

  • Give you a physical exam that includes taking your weight and checking your blood pressure
  • Give you a pelvic exam. This is an exam of the pelvic organs, like the vagina, cervix, uterus and ovaries, to make sure they’re healthy.
  • Do a Pap test. This is a medical test in which your provider collects cells from your cervix to check for cancer.

Protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

An STI is an infection that you can get from having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who is infected. Many people with STIs don’t know they’re infected because some STIs have no signs or symptoms. Nearly 20 million new STI infections happen each year in the United States. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself from STIs:

  • Don’t have sex. This is the best way to prevent an STI.
  • If you do have sex, have safe sex. Have sex with only one person who doesn’t have other sex partners. If you’re not sure if your partner has an STI, use a barrier method of birth control, like a male or female condom or a dental dam. A dental dam is a square piece of rubber that can help protect you from STIs during oral sex.
  • Get tested and treated. The sooner you’re treated, the less likely you are to have complications from your infection.
  • Ask your partner to get tested and treated. Even if you get treated for an STI, if your partner’s infected he may be able to give you the infection again.

If you’re not ready to get pregnant, use birth control

More than half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. Planning your pregnancy can help you have a healthy baby. If you’re planning to have a baby, you’re more likely to get healthy before you get pregnant and to get early and regular prenatal care during pregnancy. If you’re not ready for pregnancy, birth control options include:

  • Abstinence. This means you abstain from (don’t have) sex. Abstinence is the only birth control that’s 100 percent effective. This means it prevents pregnancy all the time.
  • Intrauterine devices (IUDs). An IUD is a small, plastic T-shaped device that your provider puts in your uterus. Hormonal IUDs contain progestin and last for 3-5 years. Non-hormonal IUDs contain copper and can work for up to 10 years.
  • Implants. An implant is a tiny rod that contains progestin and is inserted into your arm. The rod is so small that most people can’t see it. Implants can last for about 3 years.
  • Hormonal methods. These methods, like implants, non-copper IUDs, the pill and the patch, contain hormones that prevent you from releasing an egg. Without the egg, you can’t get pregnant.
  • Barrier methods. Condoms and diaphragms are barrier methods because they work by blocking or killing your partner’s sperm so it can’t reach your egg.

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

March of Dimes-funded researchers have identified genes involved in preterm birth

08
Sep
Posted by Sara

Premature birth is a complex problem with no single solution. Each year, about 15 million babies worldwide are born prematurely, and more than one million of them will die. Over 50 percent of the time, the cause of premature birth is not known. However, scientists have always believed that genetic factors play a role. A new study led by the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center-Ohio Collaborative, is the first to provide strong information as to what some of those genetic factors are. The team identified six genes that influence the length of pregnancy and the timing of birth. The findings were published Sept. 6 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This international team of researchers looked at the DNA of 50,000 pregnant women from around the world. The identification of these six gene regions allowed scientists to learn that:

  • The cells within the lining of the uterus play a larger-than-suspected role in the length of pregnancy.
  • Low levels of selenium—a common dietary mineral found in some nuts, certain green vegetables, liver and other meats—might affect the risk of preterm birth. Future studies will look at selenium levels in pregnant women who live in areas with low selenium in their diet or soil.

The six genes that have been identified can now be studied in more detail. The population of women in this study was mostly from Europe. Researchers are already trying to determine if these gene associations are the same for women from Africa and Asia.

Louis Muglia, MD, PhD, co-director of the Perinatal Institute at Cincinnati Children’s and principal investigator of the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center–Ohio Collaborative stated, “This is just the beginning of the journey, but we think it leads to an exciting horizon where we can really make a difference in human pregnancy.”

The March of Dimes believes that these new findings will lead to new diagnostic tests, medications, improved dietary supplements or other changes that could help more women have full-term pregnancies and give more babies a healthy start in life.

Preparing for a natural disaster

06
Sep
Posted by Lauren

As Hurricane Irma makes its way to the Florida area, residents are preparing for the worst. Natural disasters, such as floods, earthquakes or hurricanes can cause extreme stress and affect your everyday life. If you’re pregnant or have a baby at home, being prepared for a disaster can help you cope.

Here’s some ways you can prepare:

  • If you’re pregnant, talk to your health care provider. Make a plan together about what to do in case of a disaster, especially if you’ve had pregnancy complications or you’re close to your due date. If your baby is in the NICU, ask about the hospital’s plan.
  • Follow local and state evacuation instructions. If you do evacuate to a shelter, make sure to let staff there know if you are pregnant.
  • Tell your providers where you plan to go if you’re evacuated and how to contact you.
  • Write down important phone numbers and get copies of important medical records for you, your partner and children.

Pack a “disaster bag” of supplies that may be helpful if you need to leave your home. Here’s what you can put in your bag:

  • Clothes and medicine for you and your family. Make sure everyone has comfortable shoes.
  • Diapers, toys, pacifiers, blankets and a carrier or portable crib for your baby.
  • Food, snacks and bottles water. If your baby eats formula or baby food, pack those items. Include chlorine or iodine tablets to treat water from a faucet.
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Batteries & flashlights
  • Prenatal vitamins
  • If you’re breastfeeding, a manual pump and clean bottles

Being pregnant during and after a hurricane can be very hard on your body.  Rest when you can, drink plenty of clean water, and make sure you eat throughout the day. Go to your regular prenatal care appointments as soon as it is safe for you to do so. If you cannot get to your regular health care provider, ask the shelter or local hospital where you can go for care.

Following a disaster, some women may experience preterm labor. Make sure you know the signs of preterm labor. 

  • Change in your vaginal discharge (watery, mucus or bloody) or more vaginal discharge than usual
  • Pressure in your pelvis or lower belly, like your baby is pushing down
  • Constant low, dull backache
  • Belly cramps with or without diarrhea
  • Regular or frequent contractions that make your belly tighten like a fist. The contractions may or may not be painful.
  • Your water breaks

Contact your provider, go to a hospital , or tell someone at the shelter if you have ANY signs or symptoms. Even if you have just one sign or symptom, it is important to contact a health care provider. Getting help quickly is the best thing you can do.

Learn more about how to prepare and cope with a natural disaster.

Hurricanes and Zika

01
Sep
Posted by Lauren

Our hearts go out to all those experiencing the devastating effects of the recent hurricanes. In the days after a hurricane when there is widespread flooding, mosquitoes can lay eggs in the left over water. This increases the mosquito population and some of these mosquitoes may spread viruses like Zika.

According to the CDC, “although flooding caused by hurricanes can be severe and an increase in mosquito populations is expected in the coming weeks, CDC does not expect to see an increase in the number of people getting sick from diseases spread by mosquitoes, but will work closely with state and local health officials to monitor the situation.”

Studies show that hurricanes and floods themselves typically do not cause an increase in the spread of viruses. After floods though, more people are spending time outside cleaning up, so they have more exposure to mosquitos. Mosquito bites are the most common way Zika spreads. You can get infected from a mosquito that carries the Zika virus, and a mosquito can get the virus by biting an infected person. The mosquito can then pass the virus by biting someone else.

Zika is a virus that can cause serious problems during pregnancy. Zika infection during pregnancy can cause a birth defect called microcephaly and other brain problems.

How can you protect yourself?

  • Use an EPA registered insect repellant. If the product contains DEET, make sure it has at least 20 percent DEET. Don’t put bug spray or lotion on your skin under clothes.
  • Wear a hat, long sleeves, long pants, shoes and socks.
  • Keep windows and front doors closed,
  • Remove still water from inside and outside your home or workplace. Check flowerpots, buckets, animal water bows and children’s pools. Clean them and turn them over so they don’t collect water.
  • If you are sleeping outside or in a room without screens on the windows or doors, buy a mosquito bed net. Get one that’s approved by the World Health Organization Pesticide Evaluation Scheme (also called WHOPES) and that’s treated with permethrin. If you use a net with permethrin, don’t wash it or put it in the sun.

If you need up-to-date information about caring for babies and children with congenital Zika syndrome, contact Zika Care Connect (ZCC). ZCC helps you find services and providers. You can search the database by things like location, kind of provider, the language the provider speaks and the insurance the provider takes. Use Zika Care Connect to find the right providers to take care of your baby.

We will check for updates as disaster relief efforts continue. Have questions? Text or email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

 

 

Breastfeeding is beneficial for moms and babies

30
Aug
Posted by Sara

In the United States, most new moms (about 80%) breastfeed their babies. And about half of these moms breastfeed for at least 6 months. You may know that breastfeeding is best for your baby, but did you know that you can benefit as well? Here is some information about why breastfeeding is good for both you and your baby.

For your baby, breast milk:

  • Has the right amount of protein, sugar, fat and most vitamins to help your baby grow and develop.
  • Contains antibodies that help protect your baby. In general, breastfed babies have fewer health problems than babies who aren’t breastfed.
  • Has fatty acids, like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), that may help your baby’s brain and eyes develop. It also may lower the chances of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Is easy for your baby to digest. A breastfed baby may have less gas and belly pain than a baby who is given formula.
  • Changes as your baby grows, so he gets exactly what he needs at the right time. For the first few days after your baby is born, your breasts make colostrum. This is a thick, yellowish form of breast milk. Colostrum has nutrients and antibodies that your baby needs in the first few days of life. In 3-4 days the colostrum will gradually change to breast milk.

For you, breastfeeding:

  • Increases the amount of a hormone in your body called oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the uterus to contract. These contractions help your uterus to go back to the size it was before pregnancy and help you to stop bleeding.
  • Helps to reduce stress. Oxytocin is often referred to as the “anti-stress” hormone. It is associated with a decrease in blood pressure and cortisol levels (the hormone released in response to stress). Oxytocin also increases relaxation, sleepiness, blood flow, digestion and healing. Studies have shown that moms who breastfeed have a lower response to stress and pain.
  • Burns extra calories (up to 500 a day). This can help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight in a gradual and healthy way.

Want more information about breastfeeding? Check out Breastfeeding 101.

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