How to reduce your risk of preterm birth.

by Dr. Loral Patchen, PhD, MSN, MA, CNM Certified Nurse Midwife, Vice Chair, Innovation and Community Programs, and Section Director for Midwifery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center
October 7, 2020

Many times, it’s hard to pinpoint the cause of preterm birth, or birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy. And once you’ve delivered a preterm baby, you’re at an increased risk of having another preterm birth. While preterm birth isn’t always preventable, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of having another baby prematurely.

What are the risks of preterm birth?

While medical advances have increased the likelihood that babies born prematurely can survive, babies born too early may experience short-term and long-term health problems that vary based on how early they were born. Babies born extremely preterm—less than 25 weeks—will face more health challenges than those born closer to 37 weeks. There is also an increased rate in infant mortality. Preterm birth complications can range from vision and hearing, to delayed cognitive and social development that can last a lifetime.

Who is at risk of preterm birth?

There are certain risk factors that increase your chances of delivering a baby early. For example, being pregnant with multiples, having babies close together, or experiencing health-related complications during pregnancy, like gestational diabetes. Yet, many women with preterm birth risk factors go on to deliver healthy, full-term babies which is why it’s challenging to predict—or prevent—a preterm birth.

In addition, Black women are at an increased risk of experiencing preterm birth. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that the preterm birth rate among Black women was about 50% higher than the preterm birth rate among non-Hispanic white women in 2018. The data presents an opportunity for the U.S. health system to understand and change what’s happening systematically that affects things like bias and support for all women, irrespective of ethnicity, education, or wealth.

While #PretermBirth isn’t always preventable, #Midwife Dr. Loral Patchen shares six things you can to do reduce your risk of delivering a baby early on the #LiveWellHealthy blog: https://bit.ly/30KrFeF.

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Tips for reducing your risk of preterm birth.

While preterm birth is hard to prevent, there are a few things you can do to lower your risk of delivering a baby early.

1. Establish a strong support system.

Studies suggest that having a strong support system can help to prevent preterm birth because surrounding yourself with people who can help you can lower your risk of stress or depression. A supportive network looks different for everyone but consider asking yourself the following questions to help determine what will make you feel safe and prepared for your baby:

  • What do I need to feel safe in this pregnancy?
  • Who can help me to make good lifestyle choices and decisions related to pregnancy?
  • What techniques can I use to reduce my stress? (e.g. meditation, mindfulness, walking, etc.)
  • How can I find access to a therapist or professional if I’m feeling anxious or depressed?

2. Have an easy and fast way to get in touch with your care team.

Whether it’s your first pregnancy or third, be sure you have an easy and quick way to get in touch with your care team directly. It ensures that someone can advise you on what to do if you’re concerned about preterm contractions or other warning signs, like cramping or bleeding. You don’t have to figure it out on your own. Having a care provider just a phone call away can get you the help you need when you need it.

3. Plan your pregnancies at least 18 months apart.

Women who get pregnant with a second baby within six months of their first are at an increased risk for delivering a baby prematurely. So, one way to reduce your risk of preterm birth is to try spacing out your pregnancies at least 18 months apart. Using an effective contraceptive and waiting to get pregnant following your first baby gives your body time to recover after pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about what contraceptive or family planning methods may work best for you.

4. Maintain a healthy weight.

While most instances of preterm birth can’t be attributed to a specific cause, certain chronic health conditions, like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure, can increase your risk of having a baby too early. To lower your chances of delivering a baby preterm, talk to your doctor about how to achieve a healthy body mass index through exercise and a nutritious diet—both of which will be important for maintaining your health during pregnancy.

5. Avoid smoking and substance use.

Smoking and recreational drug use can increase your risk of preterm birth. So even if you’ve tried unsuccessfully to quit before, now is a great time to try again. Talk to your healthcare provider about how they can help support you stop smoking or using recreational drugs.

6. Protect yourself against infections.

An infection in the uterus is a medical reason for delivering a baby preterm and often the most obvious cause for early birth. Any kind of infection can compromise your immune system, increasing your risk of health problems. And, certain infections, such as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), can directly affect your baby in the uterus. That’s why it’s important to get tested for STIs early in pregnancy to rule out any chances of an infection.

Safe Babies Safe Moms initiative.

One way MedStar Health is addressing the needs of expecting moms and babies is through the D.C. Safe Babies Safe Moms initiative, made possible by the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation. The program brings together nationally recognized experts in women’s health, family medicine, behavioral health, and pediatrics at both MedStar Washington Hospital Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital to lower infant mortality rates among pregnant women in Washington D.C. The initiative offers a holistic and multi-generational approach to improving outcomes for mothers and children in the nation’s capital by offering services that aren’t traditionally offered by health systems. These services address social determinants that impact health, from food insecurity and transportation to mental health support and emotional stability.

A preterm delivery may not always be preventable. But, having a supportive care team can help you navigate pregnancy and motherhood with the resources you need to feel secure, safe, and prepared.

MedStar Health is looking forward to bringing the Safe Babies Safe Moms initiative to D.C. 
Click below to learn more about the program.

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Category: Health Innovation, Living Well     Tags: healthy pregnancyMedStar Georgetown University HospitalMedStar HealthpregnancyPreterm birthSafe Babies Safe Moms