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Preterm Labor: Can You Avoid It?

Heather Turgeon, psychotherapist and science writer, has written a great piece today about advances being made in preterm birth prevention. Researchers have identified the sequence of hormonal events that triggers labor and are close to discovering a way to block that sequence and switch labor off, if necessary.

Preterm birth brings with it a number of risks and contributes to America’s lousy maternity statistics. Though the number of babies born before term has been decreasing steadily for a few years, the number is still about twice what it should be.

The question I often get is, what can I do to prevent preterm birth?

The answer is, like so many things to do with birth and babies, this may be out of your control. Sometimes we can’t entirely explain or deter a preterm labor. (Though this new research is promising.) However there are a few simple things you can do to reduce your risk.

- Drink lots of water. Dehydration can cause preterm labor. It’s going to mean (even more) trips to the bathroom, but being very well-hydrated is good for your body, your pregnancy and your birth.

- Eat well. Whether you take prenatal vitamins or not, try to eat a well-rounded diet throughout pregnancy. Though these days there’s a strong concern for obesity in pregnancy, being underweight and dieting during pregnancy is also a big risk factor for preterm birth.

- Don’t do drugs or smoke. Drug use and smoking are strongly associated with preterm birth.

- Find ways to reduce stress. This one can be so hard sometimes given the world we live in, but pulling together resources to help you feel more grounded and supported is good practice for parenthood.

- Go to the dentist. Some research has linked gum disease with preterm birth.

- Get excellent prenatal care…from a midwife or obstetrician and monitor any chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

- Take it easy, if necessary. If you’re told to refrain from too much activity or sex by your care-provider, follow the instructions.

- Consider your risks factors with your care-provider. If you’ve had previous miscarriages or preterm births, talk to your doctor about preterm labor prevention including progesterone shots.

- Avoid an elective induction prior to 39 weeks. Some babies are ready to be born at 37 weeks — which is officially “term” but some want to keep gestating till 42 weeks, which is also “term.” Research is coming out showing that inductions for convenience are too risky. Unless there’s a medical reason to do it, avoid labor induction and let the baby come when he or she is ready.

photo: snoozeboy/flickr

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