Preventing premature birth: a focus on mom’s health

It’s estimated that more than half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. This means that lots of women may get pregnant but their body may not be ready. The truth is that having a healthy baby actually starts before you get pregnant.

Some things can increase the risk of having a premature birth

Being healthy before pregnancy can help prevent complications, like preterm labor and premature birth, when you do get pregnant. That’s why 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.

If you have a chronic health condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure, make sure  you get these conditions under control. Not doing so puts you at risk of developing serious conditions like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, both of which are risk factors for premature birth. If you already have a baby and are planning for more children, it’s best to wait at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again. Too little time between pregnancies increases your risk of premature birth. The shorter the time between pregnancies, the higher your risk.

What you can do

So where do you start and what can you do to make sure you’re body is ready for pregnancy? A great way to get started is to get a preconception checkup. This is a medical checkup you get before you get pregnant. At this checkup, your provider makes sure you’re as healthy as possible so your body’s ready when you do get pregnant. Here are a few more things you can do:

  • Take a vitamin supplement with 400 micrograms of folic acid in it each day. Folic acid can help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine in your baby called neural tube defects (NTDs) when you take it before and early in pregnancy.
  • Get vaccinated. Make sure all of your vaccinations are up to date before pregnancy. Infections like chickenpox and rubella (also called German measles) can harm you and your baby during pregnancy. Get a flu shot once a year before flu season (October through May).
  • Get to a healthy weight. If you are overweight or underweight, you are at higher risk for complications, like premature birth. Talk to your provider about what a healthy weight is for you.
  • Take care of your mental health. If you think you may be depressed, talk to your provider right away. There are many ways to deal with depression. Getting treatment and counseling early may help.
  • Stay away from harmful substances. 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.
  • Talk to your provider about medicines you take. Some medications are not safe to use when you’re pregnant, so you may need to stop taking them or switch to something safer. If you take prescription opioids (medicine used to relieve pain) tell your provider, even if it was prescribed to you by another provider. Using opioids during pregnancy can cause problems for your baby.

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