How to Help Ensure a Healthy Pregnancy and Birth

Editor’s Note: I’m super excited to feature this guest post from Debra Ness, president of National Partnership for Women & Families, and Dr. Sam Ho, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare.

November is National Prematurity Awareness Month, an ideal time for expectant mothers to think about their health and the well-being of their babies. Although there is often excitement and joy, it’s important for moms-to-be and their families to stay mindful of ways to increase the likelihood of a safe and healthy pregnancy, delivery and early postnatal period.

Each year one out of every 10 babies nationwide is born premature, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. While preterm births represent a small percentage of all births, these infants, sadly, represent a large proportion of all infant deaths.

and baby in white bedroom

There is so much useful information now available, especially from online sources and mobile apps, to help encourage a healthy and full-term pregnancy. For example, some expectant mothers can use their smartphones to conveniently track and manage their prenatal, postnatal and well-child visits with healthcare professionals.  

But it’s easy to understand how some may feel overwhelmed by all the data and expectations. To help, we’ve compiled a few simple awareness and lifestyle tips:

Where & Whom: A very important early decision is carefully choosing a maternity care provider and hospital or birth setting that fits the goals and needs of all concerned. Where and with whom a mom gives birth can have a major influence on the type of care she receives and her overall satisfaction with the childbearing experience.

Getting Ready: It is also important for women to take responsibility for their own health during pregnancy. This means eating well, staying active, getting rest and limiting stress as much as possible. In addition, regular communication with maternity care providers is vital. Expectant moms and family members should be ready to seek out suggestions and gather information. Some health plans may have free support programs and services such as childbirth education classes.

Certain Medical Procedures: It is critical for moms to know what happens to their bodies before, during and after pregnancy — and have a clear understanding of what is normal and healthy. A key part of that is researching the effects of certain medical procedures so that informed decisions can be made.

For example, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises against elective deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy — including cesarean sections — unless medically necessary. Babies born before 39 weeks are more likely to have breathing problems and developmental delays, according to many published studies.  A review of claims data by UnitedHealthcare showed that 48 percent of newborns admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit at select hospitals were from scheduled admissions for delivery — many before 39 weeks of gestation.

Help at Home: It’s always a smart move for mothers and fathers to plan and ask for help once the baby arrives home. Life with a newborn can be a big adjustment for a household. If a mother is planning to breastfeed, it’s good for her to know what it entails and what support might be needed to get off to a good start. Some maternity or health care providers might have an on-site lactation consultant who can be contacted if there are problems breastfeeding or other unexpected difficulties.

Maternity Benefits and Rights: If a mom works and plans to return to her job after the baby arrives, it is important to know her company’s maternity leave policy. The Family and Medical Leave Act enables mothers and fathers who have worked at least one year for a company with 50 or more employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off, while many employers offer full or partial paid leave. Under the law, moms are also guaranteed to get their jobs back after their leave.

Encouraging a healthy, full-term pregnancy — and avoiding medically unnecessary C-sections — is the responsibility of all concerned: parents, family members, health professionals and support staff. And those last few weeks of pregnancy can be the most challenging, but they are critically important for the baby’s development and health.

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