My daughter was born four weeks prematurely. I started to feel signs of preterm labor — contractions, pressure, and back pain — around 32 weeks, and was given a medicine to help stop my contractions and was put on modified bed rest. Four weeks later, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl. My daughter was lucky because, unlike many preemies, she didn't have to visit the NICU. Still, the cause of my preterm labor was never established and because there are risks that come with being a preemie, and you might be wondering how to reduce your baby's risk of being born prematurely.
According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), the most common complications associated with preterm birth are immature lungs, respiratory distress syndrome (harsh irregular breathing), bronchopulmonary dysplasia (lung deterioration), transient tachypnea (rapid shallow breathing), pneumonia, apnea and bradycardia (absence of breathing, reduction of heart rate), infections, jaundice, intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain), inability to maintain body heat, immature gastrointestinal and digestive system, anemia, retinopathy of prematurity (a potentially blinding eye disorder), sepsis (bacteria in the bloodstream), and infection in the bowel wall. Clearly, a preterm birth comes with many risks.
Though it can be hard to predict the outcome of a pregnancy, there are some thing you can do to reduce the risk of a premature birth. Here are some ways to reduce your baby's risk of being born prematurely.
1. Get Early Prenatal Care
According to Parents, one of the easiest ways to reduce your risk for preterm labor is visiting your doctor before you try to conceive or as soon as you find out that you are pregnant. Your doctor will prescribe a prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid, that can prevent neural-tube birth defects like spina bifida. Parents also noted that the most important time to take folic acid is during the first month of pregnancy, even before you miss your first period. Since nearly 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned, you can take a multivitamin everyday that contains folic acid, even if you aren't trying to get pregnant at the moment. The March of Dimes agreed, noting that moms attend all of their prenatal care appointments, even if they’re feeling fine.
2. Don't Smoke, Drink Alcohol, Use Illegal Drugs Or Abuse Prescription Drugs
If you currently have a problem with drugs or alcohol, tell your doctor. What To Expected warned that drinking, smoking and drugs not only increase your risk of miscarriage, they also increase your baby’s risk of being born early or at a low birth weight.
3. Treat Your Chronic Health Conditions
If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or thyroid problems, the March of Dimes recommended that you tell you doctor and continue or begin treatment. These conditions are risk factors for preterm labor.
4. Get Tested And Treated For Infections
In an interview with Parents, Dr. Ronald Gibbs, hair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, noted that up to half of all preterm births, particularly those occurring prior to 30 weeks' gestation, are caused by uterine infections that begin in the lower genital tract. Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) and other vaginal bacterial infections treated with an antibiotic can reduce preterm labor risk. Some of these infections show no symptoms, but cause inflammation that can cause the release of prostaglandins, which can initiate contractions and cause the cervix to dilate, so it's important to get tested to know if you need treatment.
5. Maintain A Healthy Weight
Discuss with your doctor the amount of weight you should gain during your pregnancy. Gaining too much weight could increase your odds of developing gestational diabetes, and being underweight puts you at risk for preterm labor, as well, warned What To Expect.
6. Visit The Dentist
According to Parents, regular dental cleanings may help prevent preterm delivery for similar reasons as the uterine infections. The site noted that a recent study by Marjorie Jeffcoat, dean of the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, found that premature births were reduced by 84 percent in women who received a deep cleaning by a dentist.
7. Reduce Your Stress
The March of Dimes recommended that pregnant women exercise to help reduce stress levels. It is also important to ask for help from your family and friends when needed and to talk to your employer about how you can reduce stress at work. Parents warned that severe chronic stress may initiate early labor.
8. Avoid Certain Things During Sex
Women at risk for preterm labor may be advised to use a condom during sex as semen contains prostaglandins, the chemicals that initiate contractions, according to Parents. Nipple stimulation and having an orgasm can have the same effect.
9. Wait At Least 18 Months To Get Pregnant Again
What To Expect warned that getting pregnant sooner than 18 months after giving birth to your last child increases your risk of preterm birth. The site noted that a recent study found that 20 percent of women who wait less than a year between pregnancies give birth before 37 weeks. For women who wait one year, the rate drops to 10 percent, and it is less than 8 percent in those who wait more than 18 months to conceive again.