One in eight babies in the United States is born prematurely—before the 37th week of pregnancy—giving them less time to develop properly in the womb. When a baby makes his or her entrance too early, it sets the stage for a host of health concerns including brain, breathing and digestive problems, and possibly death.
While you can’t necessarily control certain risk factors for premature delivery—pregnancy with multiple babies, uterine or cervical abnormalities, previous preterm birth—you can take measures to ensure that your baby doesn’t make an early appearance:
- Get regular prenatal care. This is your chance to talk with your healthcare provider about any symptoms that bother you and to learn the signs of preterm labor and what to do if they occur.
- Manage chronic conditions. Some health conditions—such as uncontrolled diabetes or high blood pressure—put you at risk for preterm labor. Your healthcare provider can help you get a handle on them.
- Eat healthfully. Additional amounts of folic acid, calcium, iron and protein-as well as a prenatal vitamin before conception—can help keep you and baby healthy.
- Reduce stress. Don’t take on more than you can handle. Make sure you get plenty of quiet time each day. And if you need help, ask for it!
- Give your teeth some TLC. Gum disease has been linked to preterm birth, so don’t forget to brush and floss daily and to visit your dentist for regular dental checkups.
- Be careful what you put into your body. Smoking, drinking and recreational drugs are obvious no-no’s. Be cautious with over-the-counter supplements and medications, too. Tell your healthcare provider about any herbs, vitamins, supplements and medicines you’re taking.
- Ask your healthcare provider about appropriate activities. If you’ve had problems with your pregnancy, your doctor may recommend working fewer hours, spending less time on your feet or avoiding intimacy (especially if you have cervix or placenta problems).