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Prenatal care’s big benefits
Prenatal care’s big benefits
BeWell spoke with Daychin Campbell, childbirth educator and coordinator at the Stanford Center for Continuing Medical Education in the School of Medicine, about the importance of prenatal care and the risks of premature birth.
What percentage of babies are born early in the United States?
According to the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford, one in eight babies is born prematurely. Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death and long-term disability.
How is “preterm birth” defined?
Babies born prior to 37 completed weeks gestation are considered preterm.
Who is at risk for premature birth?
Preterm labor and preterm birth can happen to any pregnant woman. We often don’t know the cause, although there are certain risk factors that can make certain women more likely to have preterm labor/birth, such as carrying more than one baby or chronic health problems like high blood pressure or diabetes.
Why are the final months/weeks of pregnancy so important?
Babies are developing and growing at every stage of pregnancy. In the last trimester, the brain is developing at an incredible rate, and the baby begins storing fat on the body. Lungs are still developing even in the last month of gestation, right up until the birth.
What advice would you offer a pregnant woman wishing to avoid premature birth?
Prenatal care is very important for helping women reduce the risks, including alerting women to the signs of preterm labor. If a mom suspects she is in preterm labor, she can see her healthcare provider, who may be able to stop her labor with medications. Preterm labor does not always result in preterm birth! I would encourage pregnant women to be sure to see their providers for any kind of infection, as certain infections during pregnancy, such as a UTI, might cause preterm labor.
So, prenatal care plays an important role …
Yes. Prenatal care is extremely important because it reduces the risk of pregnancy-related complications such as anemia, preterm birth, preeclampsia, complications of diabetes, or poor growth of the baby in utero. Babies born to mothers who received no prenatal care are three times more likely to be born at low birth weight.
When receiving prenatal care, pregnant mothers can get advice and information on nutrition and exercise for a healthy pregnancy, control pre-existing conditions or pregnancy-related conditions that can complicate pregnancy, and make sure that the baby is growing and developing appropriately. Pregnant women/couples should feel that they can ask their healthcare provider any questions during these visits. Parents-to-be, especially first-timers, should know that no question or concern is stupid or unreasonable. I was pregnant with my daughter 32 years ago and I can’t recall anything special I did other than a glucose test to check for gestational diabetes and giving up coffee. By contrast, today there are numerous tests and procedures about which women/couples may have questions!
Do you recommend any vitamins or supplements?
I leave this to mama’s doc! Prenatal vitamins are often recommended as supplements to a healthy diet. According to the American Pregnancy Association, a woman’s daily requirement for certain nutrients including folic acid, calcium, iron and vitamins A and D increases during pregnancy.
Pregnant women certainly should concentrate on getting the necessary nutrients from a good diet. Having previously worked with poor pregnant women, I worry about those in poverty who may not be getting enough healthy food. Hopefully, these women find out about WIC (Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program).
Is there a downside to scheduled C-sections?
The CDC, NIH and ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) advise against caesarean section by maternal request if there are no medical indications for it. A new April 2013 ACOG Committee Bulletin states: “Given the balance of risks and benefits, the Committee on Obstetric Practice believes that in the absence of maternal or fetal indications for cesarean delivery, a plan for vaginal delivery is safe and appropriate and should be recommended to patients.”
Caesarean sections are major surgery and pose more risks than delivering vaginally, for both mom and baby. On the other hand, if truly needed for the safety and health of mom or baby, then c-sections are a life-saving intervention.
… any final thoughts?
I often tell my couples that while they are giving birth to a baby, they are each giving birth to themselves as a mother and as a father, as a new family in a new community. I am a big believer in “it takes a village,” however clichéd that sounds to people. I view children as belonging, in a way, to society, to community, and so we all need to look out for and help families and kids.
I also believe that pregnant women often need support during pregnancy, but perhaps don’t even know where to find it. Taking a prenatal yoga or other exercise class during pregnancy is a great way to meet other pregnant women, plus it can help with handling stress and preparing for labor. For those women with depression or anxiety during pregnancy (either brought on by pregnancy or a woman’s pre-pregnancy clinical condition), there are options for finding help. Locally, there is El Camino Hospital’s Maternal Outreach Mood Services program, as well as Pregnancy as Postpartum Moods and Challenges weekly group at Blossom Birth in Palo Alto.
Free Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital online video: Healthy Pregnancy 101, by high-risk obstetrician Dr. Natali Aziz. You will find the free online video class by clicking on ‘Before the Birth Schedule of Classes,’ and then on ‘Healthy Pregnancy 101.’