November is National Prematurity Awareness Month, a time for families to think about the health of expectant mothers and babies, and how to have a safe and healthy pregnancy and delivery.
One out of 10 babies nationwide each year is born prematurely, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While preterm births represent a small percentage of all births, including 10.3 percent of babies in Texas, these infants represent a large proportion of all infant deaths. In 2016, the infant mortality rate was 5.8 per thousand live births, putting the state at No. 21 nationwide, according to United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings®: The Health of Women and Children Report.
There are common myths that, when taken as fact, could affect new mothers’ health, their pregnancy and even prevent babies from having the best possible start in life. Common myths include:
- Pregnancy lasts nine months
Many people associate pregnancy with nine months, or 36 weeks. But the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) defines full-term deliveries as at least 39 weeks, or nearly 10 months. Babies born before 39 weeks are more likely to have respiratory problems and developmental delays, according to published studies.
- Early, elective inductions or cesarean deliveries carry no risk
About one in three U.S. births happen by C-section, with researchers deeming almost half of those as unnecessary, and 31 percent of women said early, elective C-sections would have no impact on a baby’s health, according to a UnitedHealthcare survey. Yet ACOG notes that early, non-medically required C-sections have a higher risk of complications and admissions to neonatal delivery units.
- Babies have to be delivered in hospitals
More than 98 percent of deliveries are at hospitals, yet the growing popularity of birth centers are providing an alternative setting for people seeking a midwifery model of care. The number of independent birth centers has grown 62 percent since 2010, due in part to increased demand among millennials.
- There’s no difference between breastfeeding and formula
Many studies have shown the health benefits of breastfeeding to mothers and babies. While this practice is not possible for some women, guidelines set by ACOG recommend breastfeeding exclusively for six months and continuing as complementary foods are introduced through one year or longer if desired.
- A little alcohol is OK
Some people may believe a small amount of alcohol will have no impact on a baby, especially during the first trimester. According to the March of Dimes, no amount of alcohol at any point during pregnancy is proven to be safe for the baby, with potential issues including premature birth, developmental issues and birth defects.
Emerging technology, including mobile apps that enable access to 24/7 nurse support, can help expectant parents track and manage their prenatal visits and review appointments and guidelines before and after delivery. By accessing available information and resources, women can make more informed decisions for themselves and their babies, and take steps toward a healthier pregnancy and delivery.