Posts Tagged ‘preconception care’

Dad’s health is important for his future baby

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

International Men’s Health Week is June 11-17. Celebrate it by encouraging the men in your life to take steps to improve their preconception health. Yes, men’s health before pregnancy is important too.

Being healthy is beneficial to a man and his future family. Dad’s health before pregnancy is very important. Here are a few things men can do if they are thinking about having a baby in the future:

  • Get an annual medical checkup. During this wellness visit, his health care provider checks for him for health conditions, like high blood pressure and certain infections. Men can discuss their family health history and find out about medical problems that run in families. Certain medical problems may affect his future baby.
  • Avoid harmful substances in the workplace and at home. Men’s sperm may be affected when exposed to certain substances, like mercury, lead and pesticides. If your partner is exposed to substances like these at work, ask him to change his clothes before going home. This can help protect you from these substances before and during pregnancy.
  • Get to a healthy weight. Being overweight increases the chances of health problems, like diabetes, high blood pressure and possibly some cancers. In addition, obesity is associated with male infertility. Men can get to a healthy weight by eating healthy foods and being active every day.
  • Stop smoking, using harmful drugs and drinking too much alcohol. All these behaviors can negatively affect men’s fertility. And they can affect you and your baby, too. For example, a pregnant woman who is exposed to secondhand smoke has a higher chance of having a baby with low birthweight than women not exposed. The smoke from cigarettes also increases health problems in babies, like ear infections, respiratory problems and sudden infant death syndrome (also called SIDS).
  • Prevent sexually transmitted infections (also called STIs). An STI is an infection you can get from having unprotected sex or intimate physical contact with someone who is infected. STIs can be harmful to pregnant women and their babies and cause problems like premature birth, birth defects, miscarriage and stillbirth. Ask your partner to get tested for STIs.

For more information about a man’s wellness checkup and preconception health, visit:

Healthy babies across the life course: Past reflections and future progress during National Minority Health Month

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

By Kweli Rashied-Henry, March of Dimes Director of Health Equity

Frederick Douglass once said “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” As a country, we have made tremendous strides in the health of all populations since this famed abolitionist spoke these words in the mid-19th century. Overall life expectancy has increased and infant death before the age of one has declined. However, health is still experienced disproportionately in the United States.

Nearly twenty years ago, April was established as National Minority Health Month to encourage health and health equity partners and stakeholders to work together on initiatives to reduce disparities, advance equity, and strengthen the health and well-being of all Americans. In the U.S., racial and ethnic disparities (or inequities) in preterm birth are worsening. Black women are about 50 percent more likely to give birth prematurely compared to other women and their babies are more than twice as likely to die before their first birthday compared to babies born to white women. This stark reality signals the need for health equity, which means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. It also signals the need for healthy moms before, during and after pregnancy.

Being healthy across the course of one’s life is essential for having a healthy baby in the future. Most of us recognize the importance of prenatal care during pregnancy. Experts also advise screenings for medical and social risk factors, providing health education, and delivering effective treatment or prevention plans as a set of practices that could improve health prior to conception. Women and men of reproductive age who improve their preconception health can increase their likelihood of having a healthy baby if and when they desire. In short, healthy moms and dads can lead to stronger babies. Yet disparities can be stubborn and may require more than simply changing behavior.

According to the Office of Minority Health, your zip code can be a predictor of your health. In other words, your place of birth, where you work and play, your income and education, and a host of other factors – in addition to the choices you make each day about what to eat, when to work out and whether or not to see a doctor can impact your health. These factors are often referred to as the “social determinants of health,” and they contribute to health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities in America. “Addressing the social determinants is key to ensuring that every baby is born healthy regardless of wealth, race or geography.”

According to the Pew Research Center, rapid growth among minority populations is projected by 2050.  If this trend holds, many of tomorrow’s parents will come from communities that share a disproportionate burden of preterm birth and infant death. Although advances in medicine and technology were likely responsible for much of the improvements in these health outcomes in the U.S. over the years, it is also likely that the collective actions of everyday people has helped us realize that better health is not just for ourselves but for future generations. Looking back on this progress can surely help us look forward to what it will take for our babies to continue to grow and thrive.  National Minority Health Month is a special occasion for us to acknowledge the struggles that continue to evade us and what’s needed to support future generations.

Your preconception to-do list

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

You know that staying healthy during your pregnancy is important. But did you know that having a healthy baby actually starts before you get pregnant? Preconception health is your health before pregnancy. Being healthy before pregnancy can help improve your chances of getting pregnant  and it can help to reduce the chances of complications during your pregnancy. If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, make sure you start to focus on your health at least 3 months before you start trying to conceive. Here are some things you can do:

Schedule a preconception checkup: This is a medical checkup you get before pregnancy. It helps your health care provider make sure you’re healthy and that your body is ready for pregnancy. Your provider can identify, treat, and sometimes prevent health conditions that may affect your pregnancy.

Take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid: Folic acid is a B vitamin that every cell in your body needs for healthy growth and development. If you take it before and during early pregnancy, it can help protect your baby from birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects.

Review your family healthy history: Your family health history is a record of any health conditions that you, your partner and everyone in your families have had. Your family health history can help you and your provider look for health conditions that may run in your family. Use the March of Dimes Family Health History Form to gather information.

Get to a healthy weight: You’re more likely to have health problems during pregnancy if you’re overweight or underweight. Talk to your provider about what is a healthy weight for you.

Don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or use street drugs: All of these can make it harder for you to get pregnant and they’re harmful to your baby when you do get pregnant. Tell your provider if you need help to quit.

Review medications that you take: Some medications are not safe to use when you’re pregnant but there may be other alternatives.  Don’t stop taking any prescription medicine without your provider’s OK. Stopping certain medicines, like medicines for asthma, depression or diabetes, can be more harmful to you or your baby than taking the medicine. Talk to your provider about the medications you take.

Get treatment for health conditions: This includes making sure chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure are under control. Your provider can also check for infections, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Some STIs can be passed to your baby during pregnancy or a vaginal birth.

Get vaccinated: Make sure you are caught up on all of your vaccinations before pregnancy. Infections like chickenpox and rubella (also called German measles) can harm you and your baby during pregnancy.

Stay safe from viruses and infections: Wash your hands well (especially after contact with any bodily fluids or raw meats), avoid undercooked meats, let someone else change the litter box, and don’t share food, glasses, or utensils with young children.

 

#ShowYourLove by being your healthiest self

Friday, January 12th, 2018

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Today’s guest post is from Suzanne Woodward, Communications Director at the National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative (PCHHC), to help raise awareness on the steps women can take to be as healthy as possible before having a baby.

Love it or hate it, January is a great time to reflect, set intentions, and start fresh. The bustle around “New Year, Healthier You” is a great opportunity to let yourself be motivated by and encourage others to take steps toward your health and life goals. What did you love about 2017 that you want to keep in your life? What new experiences or attitudes would you like to welcome into this New Year? What support do you need to make this happen? Is starting a family or growing your family in the cards for 2018? This is the cornerstone theme for the #ShowYourLoveToday consumer health and wellness campaign. Have you heard of it?

Show Your Love aims to help young adults live and grow to their full health potential. For themselves, their families and/or for their future families if they choose to have one.

Why is a health and wellness campaign called “Show Your Love?”
We know that women are busy – often caring for friends, family, colleagues and others before themselves. Taking the time to invest in yourself – to give yourself the same love and respect you give to others – is important. Because by showing love to YOURSELF, you are more likely to have the energy and focus you need to work toward your goals and life plans.

How can you show love for yourself?
You “show your love” in many ways. Some ideas could be taking time to walk, take the stairs not the elevator, pray/meditate, get more sleep, get a physical “tune up” with your health care provider, add a fruit and vegetable to your meal, drink less soda, take a vitamin, learn about your family’s health history, and protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections (all called, STI), sunburn and insect bites. Maybe this is the  year that you will focus on stopping habits like tobacco and binge drinking that may help you cope with stress but don’t help you reach your goals. Take stock of the relationships in your life – do they build you up or take you down? Do you have people in your life who might want to join you in making positive changes?

If a baby is definitely NOT in your future for 2018, make sure that you are happy with your contraceptive plan whether that’s abstinence, an IUD or anything in between. If getting pregnant is on your list then you can show your love to your future baby this year too by taking care of you now.

How can you show love for others?
Some ideas could be as simple as encouraging your loved ones to make ONE healthier choice each day, asking about their goals, sharing your health and wellness tips, supporting their efforts to understand their health, telling YOUR story and influencing others (to name a few!). By showing your love for other, you show love for yourself.

Many health “resolutions” offer a two for one benefit. They are good for women AND lay the foundation for a healthy next generation too.

Whether you ARE planning to become pregnant or NOT in 2018, there are critical steps that can be taken TODAY to improve your own overall health and wellness AND increase the chance of a healthy baby. This January, the Show Your Love campaign is proud to partner with the March of Dimes to raise awareness about the 1 in 33 babies born with a birth defect. While not all birth defects are preventable, practicing self-care before becoming pregnant can reduce the risk of birth defects. Some key areas for birth defect prevention include:

You can find full health and wellness, life and/or reproductive planning checklists here. These checklists can support you with tips to get healthy before, during or after pregnancy.

Show Your Love is a virtual community of young adults striving to live healthier and encouraging each other along the way. Join our Ambassador Network (it’s free) and share your health journey/goals/messages. I will plug: it is a fun group, an easy way to connect and elevate your voice, and we have lots of cool incentives for healthy challenges. Follow and contribute to our conversation on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook using #ShowYourLoveToday.

Show Your Love is led by the National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative (PCHHC), a public-private partnership of 90+ national organizations working to advance preconception health. PCHHC is hosting a Tweet chat with the March of Dimes and Mother to Baby on January 30, 2-3pm ET. Join us on Twitter using: #Prevent2Protect.

We can’t wait to hear from YOU!

Want more information about PCHHC or Show Your Love? Email Suzanne at Suzannew@med.unc.edu. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Collecting your family health history

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

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.

Health disparities in premature birth

Friday, April 14th, 2017

In the United States, rates of preterm birth, low birthweight, and infant mortality are higher for black, non-Hispanic infants than for white, non-Hispanic infants. These differences, or disparities, Baby w pacifierbetween races and/or ethnicities have a great impact on the health and well-being of families.

What we know

  • Premature birth is when a baby is born too soon, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
  • While the overall preterm birth rate in 2013 was 11.4%, the rate was higher among non-Hispanic black infants (16.3%) compared to non-Hispanic white infants (10.2%). This means that the preterm birth rate for black infants was 60% higher than the rate for non-Hispanic white infants.
  • 11.3% of Hispanic infants were born prematurely. Hispanic women account for about 1 out of every 4 premature births in the US (23.2%). The preterm birth rate among Hispanic women is falling more slowly than the rate in the non-Hispanic white population and the non-Hispanic black population.
  • The number of black infants born at a low birthweight (a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces) was almost twice that of white infants and Hispanic infants.
  • The death of a baby before his or her first birthday is called infant mortality. The rates of infant mortality are higher for babies born before 37 weeks and at a low birthweight.
  • A recent study published by the CDC, showed that from 2005 to 2014, infant mortality rates declined for all races, except American Indian or Alaska Natives. But babies born to non-Hispanic black women continue to have an infant mortality rate more than double that of non-Hispanic white women.

We don’t know why race plays a role in premature birth.

Even when researchers compare women of different races and ethnicities and remove any known risk factors in their analysis (such as smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure), the disparities in the rate of premature births still exist.

Researchers at the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center Ohio Collaborative are trying to better understand health disparities. Dr. Irina Buhimschi has found that there is a population of Somali women in the US with a low rate of premature birth—as low as or lower than white women. Dr. Buhumschi and her team are trying to determine what makes this population different. “We believe a variety of genetic, environmental and social factors are involved in preterm birth. From stress and resilience, to diet and lifestyle, to vaginal and gut bacteria, we will comprehensively study why Somali-American women have lower rates of preterm birth.” Dr. Buhimschi then hopes to develop a plan that can help all populations reduce their chances of premature birth.

You can read more about Dr. Buhimschi’s research here.

The March of Dimes supports research, community programs, and advocacy policies that try to reduce health disparities and make sure that all babies have a healthy start in life.

U.S. study shows fewer babies are dying in their first year of life

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

The death of a baby before his or her first birthday is called infant mortality. A new report released by the CDC shows that the infant mortality rate in the U.S. dropped 15% from 2005 to 2014. In kangaroo-care-242005 the rate was 6.86 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2014, the rate dropped to 5.82 deaths per 1,000 live births.

While the study did not look at the underlying causes of the decline, it did report valuable information:

  • Infant mortality rates declined in 33 states and the District of Columbia. The other 17 states saw no significant changes.
  • Declines were seen in some of the leading causes of infant death including birth defects (11% decline), preterm birth and low birthweight (8% decline), and maternal complications (7% decline).
  • The rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) declined by 29%.
  • Infant mortality rates declined for all races, except American Indian or Alaska Natives.
  • Infants born to non-Hispanic black women continue to have an infant mortality rate more than double that of non-Hispanic white women.

“On the surface, this seems like good news. But it is far from time to celebrate,” said Dr. Paul Jarris, chief medical officer for the March of Dimes. “What is concerning, though, is that the inequities between non-Hispanic blacks and American Indians and the Caucasian population have persisted.” Dr. Jarris adds, “This report highlights the need to strengthen programs that serve low income and at-risk communities, especially those with the highest infant mortality rates.”

The infant mortality rate is one of the indicators that is often used to measure the health and well-being of a nation, because factors affecting the health of entire populations can also impact the mortality rate of infants.

What can you do?

Having a healthy pregnancy may increase the chance of having a healthy baby. Here are some things you can do before and during pregnancy:

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

New year – healthy you

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Today we welcome guest blogger Sarah Verbiest, DrPH, MSW, MPH, Executive Director, The National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative.

January brings a time for reflection and a fresh start; a time when many women re-evaluate or set new goals. Health aims such as losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, sleeping more and stopping smoking are important and often on the top of many women’s lists.

Well woman visitHere’s one that should top yours in 2017:

Go for your annual well woman visit.

Why?

For one, we still have the Affordable Care Act, so preventive services, like an annual well woman visit, should be covered by insurance with no out-of-pocket costs. This means if you have health insurance and the provider is covered under that plan, the visit shouldn’t cost you anything. While this may not yet be true for all health plans, it is likely a benefit you have that you didn’t know was available.

“I’m healthy – so I don’t need to see a doctor. Right?”

Being healthy doesn’t mean you can skip the wellness visit. This annual check-up is more than an overall physical and mental screen – this is a time to talk to your doctor about your questions and get help on those health resolutions. Your doctor can help you stay on track with ways you can set yourself up for success, from the inside out. He or she can also help you take preventative measures if starting a family is not in your plans. And if you hope 2017 will bring the stork your way, this is a critical place to start.

So, is a wellness visit more than just the dreaded pelvic exam?

YES!

A well woman visit has often been thought of as primarily an appointment for a pelvic exam, but it is a much more comprehensive visit than that! In fact, a well visit may not even need to include a pelvic exam anymore. The contents of a well woman’s visit are up to each woman and her provider. Her visit could include nutrition and diet counseling, immunizations, family planning, and screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, depression, anxiety, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

To make the most of a visit, you can create a list of questions and concerns to discuss during your appointment. Be sure to bring up if you would like to become pregnant in the next year. Whether you want to start a family or not- there are vital lifestyle, behavior and contraception topics to discuss to be sure you’re tracking toward your reproductive goals. Especially if you’re planning a trip south, ask about the Zika virus and ways you can protect yourself. January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and a trip to the doctor is an essential step to #Prevent2Protect.

Where can you learn more?

The National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative, a public-private partnership of 70+ national organizations working to advance preconception health, launched Show Your Love, the first national preconception consumer resource and campaign. On this site, you’ll find what you need to know about well visits and preconception health care. Show Your Love website and social media campaign is meant to spark action for consumers to “Show Your Love”—to yourself, your significant other, and your family/future family—by preventing to protect and taking care of your health today.

Sarah Verbiest, DrPH, MSW, MPHSarah Verbiest is Executive Director at UNC Center for Maternal & Infant Health. She serves as Director of the National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative (PCHHC), a public-private partnership of over 70 organizations focused on improving the health of young women and men and any children they may choose to have. Sarah is also a clinical associate professor at the UNC School of Social Work.  You can follow Sarah on Twitter @S_Verbiest or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Your developing baby

Friday, March 18th, 2016

There are specific times during a baby’s development when a certain body part is especially vulnerable to damage from harmful substances and exposures. These substances can include alcohol, medications, and cigarette smoking. The chart below shows these critical periods. If something interferes or disrupts development during these times, the result may be a birth defect.

developing baby

*Image courtesy of NOFAS.

Birth defects

The dark blue segments on the picture above show when certain body parts are most at risk for major birth defects. Major birth defects cause significant medical problems and may require surgery or other treatment. Some examples of major birth defects include heart defects and spina bifida.

The light blue sections of the chart show periods when fetal development is susceptible to minor birth defects and functional defects. Minor birth defects do not cause significant problems and usually do not require medical intervention, such as treatment or surgery. Minor birth defects include things like the shape of the ears or certain facial features. Functional defects affect how a part of the body works. For example, hearing loss can be a functional defect.

Timing of exposures

According to MotherToBaby, “Harmful exposures during the first trimester have the greatest risk of causing major birth defects. This is because of the many, important developmental changes that take place during this time. The major structures of the body form in the first trimester. These include the spine, head, arms and legs.  The baby’s organs also begin to develop. Some examples of these organs are the heart, intestines and lungs.”

While exposures during the first trimester do pose the greatest risk of birth defects, exposures during the second and third trimester can cause problems with growth as well as minor birth defects. Factors that affect growth can put babies at risk for other health problems.

The brain continues to develop throughout pregnancy, after the baby is born, and into young adulthood. Harmful substances and exposures during the second and third trimester can cause developmental delays and learning disabilities.

Planning for pregnancy is important

Looking at the chart above, it is easy to see why preconception care is so important. Crucial fetal development happens very early in pregnancy– in many cases, before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. Seeing your health care provider BEFORE pregnancy and discussing any medications you are taking and underlying medical conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure, can help you be better prepared for pregnancy and to reduce your risk of birth defects.

*We would like to thank the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) for allowing us to use their fetal development chart. Please visit their website for more important information about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

 

Preconception health for dads

Friday, February 12th, 2016

becoming a dadWe talk a lot about getting a woman’s body ready for pregnancy. But what about men? Dad’s health before pregnancy is important too. Here are a few things men can do if they are thinking about having a baby in the future.

Avoid toxic substances in your workplace and at home

If you and your partner are trying to get pregnant, it may be more difficult if you are exposed to the following substances:

  • Metals (like mercury or lead)
  • Products that contain lots of chemicals (like certain cleaning solutions, pesticides or gases)
  • Radioactive waste, radiation or other dangerous substances (like drugs to treat cancer or X-rays)

Read more about how to protect yourself at work and at home here.

Get to a healthy weight

Obesity is associated with male infertility. And people who are overweight have a higher risk for conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and possibly some cancers.

Prevent STDs

A sexually transmitted disease (also called STD) is an infection that you can get from having sex with someone who is infected. You can get an STD from vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Many people with STDs don’t know they’re infected because some STDs have no symptoms. About 19 million people get an STD each year in the United States.

It is important to continue to protect yourself and your partner from STDs during pregnancy. STDs can be harmful to pregnant women and their babies and cause problems, such as premature birth, birth defects, miscarriage, and stillbirth.

Stop smoking, using street drugs, and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol

All of these behaviors are harmful to your health. Being around people who smoke is dangerous for pregnant women and babies. Being exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy can cause your baby to be born with low birthweight.

Secondhand smoke is dangerous to your baby after birth. Babies who are around secondhand smoke are more likely than babies who aren’t to have health problems, like pneumonia, ear infections, asthma, and bronchitis. They’re also more likely to die of SIDS.

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and using street drugs can negatively affect a man’s fertility.

Know 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 baby. Taking your family health history can help you make important health decisions. 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.

Be supportive of your partner

Help your partner. If she is trying to quit smoking, make sure you support her efforts—and join her if you need to quit too! If she has a medical condition, encourage her to see her doctor.

Even before pregnancy, dads play an important role in their baby’s lives, so make sure you are planning for the future too.

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