According to March of Dimes, 10.6 percent of Missouri’s babies are born prematurely — a rate that exceeds the national average.
The more premature a baby is, the greater his or her risk of severe complications or death.
“Most premature babies will have breathing problems and feeding difficulties,” said Ella Speichinger, MD, a MU Health Care OB/GYN. “We also worry about vision issues and developmental conditions such as cerebral palsy.”
Speichinger said many premature births are unavoidable, but there are ways to lower the risk. She offered three suggestions.
- Early prenatal care: Visit an obstetrician as early as possible during a pregnancy.
“We can identify medical conditions that put you at risk of preterm delivery and intervene to address those concerns,” Speichinger said. “Perhaps you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or you struggle with obesity. Maybe you are trying to stop smoking. We can help you get these conditions under control. If you have already had a previous preterm birth, we can offer progesterone to decrease the risk that it happens again.”
Speichinger said the goal of prenatal care is to ensure that mom and baby are safe and healthy.
“The amazing thing about being an obstetrician is that you have an opportunity to influence not just a woman’s life but also the trajectory of her entire family,” she said. “When a pregnant woman is healthy, her family is more likely to be healthy.”
- Proper nutrition: Steer clear of excess sugar during pregnancy.
“Sugar is the new drug,” Speichinger said. “Though it might be a huge lifestyle change, try not to drink soda during your pregnancy. Instead, drink lots of water and eat plenty of vegetables and protein. Also make sure you're getting plenty of folic acid, especially during your first trimester.”
While some women believe they are “eating for two” during pregnancy, this is just a myth. Pregnant women should only increase their caloric intake by approximately 300 calories.
“A more substantial increase should actually occur post-partum when you start feeding your newborn,” Speichinger said.
- Seek support: Don’t isolate yourself during pregnancy. This contributes to stress, and stress increases the risk of preterm delivery.
“You should never feel like you are going through your pregnancy alone,” Speichinger said. “That is why we offer a group prenatal program called Centering that provides a built-in support system for pregnant women. You and your cohorts are at the same gestational age, so you experience pregnancy together.”
Speichinger said exercise is another great way to reduce stress during pregnancy.