Nature has deemed that it is the female that conceives, carries her unborn child for nine months and then gives birth. New life enters this world having grown in the womb until strong enough to survive with a mother’s suckling and begin its first tentative steps towards eventual self-sustained life.
The nine months gestation period is the time nature requires to allow the embryo to evolve in the womb through the mother’s sustenance. Those nine months are critical to the unborn child’s growth and development, giving them the maximum chance of survival post birth. Although the vast majority of pregnancies progress through the nine months of gestation, and some a little longer, there are those babies that are born prematurely.
Premature, referred to as preterm, births are not uncommon. In fact, in America 9.8% of births are premature, across Asia this figure rises to 11%. There can be numerous reasons for a mother having a preterm baby. Known contributory factors include, smoking, drinking, stress, and poor dietary nutrition, there are also many underlying health issues that cause premature birth, such as diabetes and other diseases that require medication.
Preterm babies are at risk from a myriad of health problems, both as a baby and throughout their entire life. The nine-month gestation period is vital for the development of the unborn child’s vital organs, extremely premature babies may be born underweight and very poorly, and thus, require extensive medical care immediately following birth.
For a mother having had a preterm baby, the risk of a second child being premature rises by around 15%. Every mother wants their unborn child to be strong and healthy, and so, will want their pregnancy to go full term, especially after experiencing the early birthing of a child. Mothers that have experienced a preterm birth can be proactive in helping to avoid a second child arriving early.
How to Avoid the Preterm birth of a Second child
There are numerous actions a pregnant mother can take to increase the chances of her pregnancy going full term. Although many of these actions seem very obvious, there are some expectant mothers that need to be informed and encouraged to give thought to their own lifestyle and how it affects their unborn child.
Smoking and Drinking
Smoking and drinking have undeniable health issues for everyone, for a woman carrying a baby these issues are far more critical, the effects of smoking and drinking on an unborn child can be devastating. It is known that these activities cause intrauterine growth restriction and increase the chances of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Smokers increase the chances of a preterm birth by 40%. Would-be mothers that smoke should give up at least three months before trying to conceive a child. Alcohol consumption increases preterm birth risks dependent on the level of consumption. Light drinkers raise the risk by 1.8% with the risk rising to around 30% for heavy drinkers.
Underlying Health Issues
Any mother-to-be with health problems must adhere strictly to any advised health regime they have been directed to by their doctor or health care professional. Fresh advice should be taken in reference to existing health problems prior to trying to conceive, medications and practices may need to be adjusted to suit the would-be mothers condition following conception. Diabetes and high blood pressure are known conditions that can lead to preterm births.
A mother’s diet plays a significant role in her pregnancy and the development of her unborn child. Astonishingly, research by the University of Adelaide, and published in Science Daily, indicates that a poor diet can increase the likelihood of a preterm birth by as much as 50%. This increase is due to a lack of essential nutrients. Expectant mothers should ensure that they follow a healthy diet with a balance across the five food groups, mothers in any doubt about their dietary needs should seek expert advice.
Sleep and Rest
There is no doubt that expectant mothers easily become tired, both physically and mentally. Sleep and rest are vital during pregnancy for both mother and unborn child. Reduced blood flow to the uterus is known to increase the risk of a preterm birth, sleep is essential in helping to ensure the blood flow, with eight hours being recommended by all health professionals. Expectant mothers with sleep disorders raise their risks of preterm birth by around 5.5%.
Stress and Anxiety
Maternal stress and anxiety are very real, and a well-established fact that contributes to the risk of preterm birth. Learning to avoid stressful situations is vital during pregnancy. Expectant mothers should take advice on avoiding stress and on methods of dealing with stress and anxiety. Health professionals can give practical advice and, where necessary, refer expectant mothers to a doctor for a medical check-up, a doctor can offer treatment to aid expectant mothers suffering with stress and anxiety.
Normal sexual activity during pregnancy, in general, is not considered to be harmful to either mother or unborn child. However, for some couples’ sexual intercourse can be a very physical activity. Excessive physical exertion during pregnancy is not advisable and can lead to an early birth, this is particularly true during the third trimester.
As with any form of exercise, expectant mothers wishing to continue with an active sex life during pregnancy, should take advice from their health care professional and avoid excessive physical exertion during intercourse.
Preterm Birth Risk Screening
Preterm risk screening is yet another, and very advisable, action to take towards helping to avoid preterm birth. At Samitivej Hospital expectant mothers can be sure of a world class preterm risk screening service, conducted and assessed by leading experts in the field.
Preterm risk screening can be undertaken via numerous methods and would usually be done after the 16th week of gestation. Typically, the screening will include and ultrasound examination of the cervix, a blood test and fetal fibronectin (FFN). FFN is done by taking a swab of cervical or vaginal fluid.
Preconception genetic testing, which is considered a ‘precision medicine’ will also be conducted. This helps to pinpoint risks that maybe attributed to family history, environment, genetics and lifestyle. From the results of screening the Samitivej Hospital’s health care professionals can, where necessary, create a personalized treatment plan specifically designed to reduce the risk of a mother having a preterm second baby.
Click here to visit Samitivej Hospital’s Preterm Prevention Clinic.