Prenatal Care is Key to Helping Prevent Premature Births

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By Joshua Best, M.D., Bayou Regional Women’s Clinic
Welcoming a new baby is one of the most joyous celebrations a family experiences, but many new parents are faced with their worst nightmares when prematurity, or preterm birth, occurs.
Preterm birth is defined as birth before 37 weeks gestation.  Preterm birth is currently the second leading cause of newborn deaths (second only to birth defects), and many other lifelong health issues can occur in babies born before a full term pregnancy, such as intellectual impairment, cerebral palsy, impaired vision, hearing and breathing difficulties, and feeding and digestion problems.
Even with current medical advances, two worrisome facts remain: experts do not have exact causes for why some babies are born before the full 40-week term, and the prematurity rate continues to rise.  The Center for Disease Control reports that in the U.S. alone the premature birth rate is higher than it has been in the past two decades. 
Risk factors for preterm birth include:
• Previous preterm birth or preterm labor
• Twins or triplets 
• Cervical or uterine abnormalities 
• Urinary tract, vaginal or sexually transmitted infections
• Being underweight before pregnancy
• Obesity
• Second trimester vaginal bleeding 
All preterm births cannot be predicted or prevented, but at-risk patients and early warning signs can be identified so that appropriate measures can be taken to better protect the unborn baby.  Certain high-risk patients are candidates for weekly hormone injections starting in the second trimester to decrease the risk of preterm birth.  In other instances, no risk factors exist, but symptoms of early labor occur.  These patients are then candidates for further investigation and testing to quantify the risk of preterm delivery. These investigations include transvaginal ultrasound measuring of the cervical length and the fetal fibronectin test. 
Those patients identified as high-risk for early delivery are then candidates for medical intervention. Medical intervention may include tocolytics, medications to slow the progress of labor, and neonatal corticosteroids, therapy aimed to protect the unborn baby.  The best way to protect yourself and your baby is to have prenatal care throughout your pregnancy, and be aware of any factors that would put your baby at greater risk for prematurity. 
Moms-to-be should prepare for the healthiest pregnancy possible by:
• Scheduling regular prenatal care with an OB/GYN 
• Taking a 400 micrograms folic acid vitamin every day
• Not using alcohol, tobacco or drugs
• Eating healthy foods from each of the five food groups each day 
• Avoiding raw or undercooked meat 
• Keeping hands clean by washing often to prevent infections
To schedule a women’s wellness visit or prenatal care appointment with Dr. Best at either location in Zachary or Central, call Bayou Regional Women’s Clinic at (225) 658-1303.

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