HealthONE - December 27, 2017

Preterm birth is the leading cause of death for babies in the U.S., and babies who survive being born prematurely often have life-long health complications, such as intellectual disabilities, chronic lung disease, cerebral palsy, blindness and hearing loss. If you’re trying to get pregnant, there are a few things you should know to help reduce your risk of preterm labor and preterm delivery.

Prenatal care is especially important for women having a high-risk pregnancy, including lifestyle factors, age and other health conditions like high blood pressure, polycystic ovary syndrome, diabetes and obesity. The decision to grow your family is an exciting one, and having a plan when it comes to taking care of yourself before and during pregnancy can help you prepare for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

Visit your doctor

An annual exam is always a recommended for women’s health. If you’re trying to get pregnant, and during pregnancy, you’ll need to make regular trips to your OB/GYN for pre-pregnancy care. Go to all of your scheduled appointments, even if you don’t think that you need to. And always ask your physician if it’s safe to take prescription drugs or herbal supplements leading up to and during pregnancy.

Eat and exercise for two

It’s important to maintain a healthy weight if you plan to become pregnant because your body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy influences how much weight you should gain while pregnant. Being over or under weight can lead to premature birth, birth defects and risk for diabetes and high blood pressure. Along with including more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet, try not to skip meals. And be sure to drink plenty of water and stay active. Ask your healthcare provider if you have any questions about diet or exercise.

Kick bad habits

If you’re a smoker, talk to your doctor about quitting before you conceive. Smoking increases the risk of pregnancy complications like premature birth, but your risk can be similar to nonsmoking mothers if you quit. Additionally, try to avoid secondhand smoke, don’t drink alcohol and don’t use illegal drugs. If you have a substance abuse problem, get support from your healthcare provider.

Protect your mental health

Stress can have a large effect on your body when trying to conceive. Along with causing health problems like high blood pressure and heart disease, stress can increase the chances of having a premature or low-birth weight baby, so try to learn strategies for reducing stress in your life.

Physical and emotional abuse harms you and your baby. If you are in an abusive relationship, get help from a professional organization like the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-(800)-799-SAFE (7233).