Giving birth to a premature baby can be an emotional roller coaster. Often, the reason for a preterm birth is unknown, and once you’ve had one preterm birth, you’re at greater risk for another. The good news is there are things you can control that may reduce the risk of subsequent preterm births. The most important: Wait 18 to 24 months before getting pregnant again, according to the March of Dimes.
Additionally, here are six other things to consider.
Choose a birth control plan that works for you and your partner. Pick a reliable method and, depending on what you decide, make sure you don’t run out of contraceptive. Also, it’s never a bad idea to have a back-up in case the first line of defense fails.
Research suggests that folic acid may help reduce the risk of placental abruption (the separation of the placenta from the uterine wall) and preeclampsia, two conditions that can lead to premature births. Take at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day before — and during — your pregnancy. Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps prevent major defects in the baby’s brain and spine. For foods rich in folic acid, try dark leafy greens, beans and lentils, asparagus, avocado and broccoli.
Practice good oral hygiene, as gum disease is a proven risk factor for preterm birth. Brush and floss daily, and visit your dentist for regular cleanings. Contact your dentist if you notice any of the following:
- Sensitive teeth
- Red, swollen or bleeding gums
- Bad breath that doesn’t go away
Quit smoking and avoid drugs & alcohol
Smoking is linked to preterm birth and low birth weight babies. The best time to stop smoking is before you get pregnant, but it’s never too late to quit. Don’t drink alcohol or do drugs while you are trying to get pregnant. Avoid situations and places where you may be tempted to drink or do drugs. If you’re having trouble giving up smoking, drugs or alcohol, talk to your primary care provider or OB/GYN.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight or not weighing enough can increase your risk for preterm birth. Devise a plan with your doctor if you need help losing or gaining weight in a healthy fashion.
Plan for future pregnancies
Meet with your obstetrician/gynecologist or midwife within six weeks of your last pregnancy. Your provider will ensure your body is healing properly and talk with you about prenatal care before you become pregnant again. When you are ready to conceive, visit your obstetric provider to ensure your health is optimal, says Kevin Pieper, M.D., a Providence obstetrician/gynecologist. “Develop a plan for early pregnancy visits to discuss things like progesterone supplementation during the pregnancy and assess the need for consultation with an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancy, called perinatology.”
If you don’t have an obstetric provider, look for one near you.