During my second pregnancy, I had to go on bedrest for a few weeks because I was showing signs of preterm labor. It was a scary time and I wondered, did I do something wrong? Are there strategies I could have employed early on in my pregnancy to not find myself in this situation? It's really heartbreaking to find yourself worrying about your baby's health and it's easy to blame yourself, but can you prevent preterm labor naturally?
My OB-GYN told me when she put me on bed rest that sometimes, preterm labor is just a thing that happens, and that I'd done all I could to ensure a healthy pregnancy — but I still felt tremendous guilt about it. Granted, I didn't actually end up giving birth early, but those weeks leading up to my daughter's birth were some of the most stressful in my life.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every 10 births in the United States happens before week 37, which is considered full-term. The risks for preterm birth are high. The baby could have breathing, hearing or vision problems, low birth weight, developmental delays, and the baby is at a greater risk for cerebral palsy. Not to mention, the unthinkable risk of infant death hangs like a pall over premature deliveries.
I spoke with Certified Nurse Midwife, Regina Hamilton, CNM, DNP, to find out how to prevent preterm birth naturally, or if that's even possible. She tells Romper, "Preterm birth isn't inevitable, but it may feel that way if you've gone through it." She adds that some women will go into labor early no matter what. They could have a dream cervix, a healthy pregnancy, and do everything just right, and it still happens.
However, there are some ways you can ameliorate some of the risks to preterm labor. "You've got to have good prenatal care, and early," Hamilton tells Romper. "The better your midwife or doctor can know you and monitor you, the more they can guide you and hopefully steer you away from delivering early." It's a fact that women with decreased access to healthcare, specifically lower income women, go into preterm labor at a rate of 50 percent greater than women with money and access. Hamilton continues, "There's a link between infection, blood pressure, and illness with risk of preterm labor. If we can stay on top of those, we're in a better position."
Next, Hamilton says, "This is going to sound strange, but go see your dentist. Really. Periodontal disease has been shown as a contributing factor to preterm labor. Know your dentist, and let him know you're pregnant. If you can, get all of that taken care of before you even get pregnant." I hate the dentist, so this is hard for me, but he does offer me a sticker and gives me my pick of the toothbrushes, so there's that, right?
She also says it's important to get plenty of fruits and veggies in your diet, stay hydrated, take your prenatal vitamin religiously, and gain the proper amount of weight for your pregnancy. "When your mother told you to eat your green beans, she was right. We know that women who have a healthy diet full of produce are less likely to go into preterm labor."
Hamilton adds that there have also been a lot of studies conducted on yoga and preterm labor. "Some of them are promising," she says. "There needs to be a lot more study and peer review before we know for sure, but one of the main things we tell women is to try to relax and keep your stress levels down. Yoga, and also meditation and other mindful practices, may help in that area."
She says that in the end, though, some women will still require bed rest or pharmacological or surgical intervention. It's awful, but true. Hamilton notes that if you think you're at risk for preterm birth, keep an open dialogue with your provider, and trust that you know your body. If something doesn't feel right, speak up. Otherwise, pass the crudité.
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