By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
The last weeks of pregnancy can take a long time.
Swollen ankles, aching backs and short tempers can make the final days stretch. That baby can’t show up fast enough for most moms-to-be.
But getting to 39 weeks does make a difference.
“We’ve always considered 37 to 42 weeks term,” said Tupelo obstetrician Ronny Young. “Babies born before 39 weeks are more likely to end up in intensive care.”
North Mississippi Medical Center is among 100 hospitals across the country participating in a March of Dimes initiative to lower the number of babies born too soon by avoiding unnecessary inductions and cesarean deliveries.
“We’re not going to force the babies to come early,” Young said, unless there’s a pressing medical reason threatening the health of the mother or the baby. “If there’s medical reason, sometimes, it’s safer to get the baby out early.”
The new guidelines don’t affect moms that go into labor on their own, Young said. Generally, obstetricians won’t try to halt contractions after 36 weeks gestation.
However, health advocates want to be clear that parents-to-be shouldn’t rush through pregnancy.
“Every week of pregnancy is important to a baby’s health,” says Dr. Scott Berns, senior vice president and deputy medical director for the March of Dimes.
A lot of the work is educating expectant parents who, during a previous pregnancy, had a scheduled delivery at 38 weeks, with the new best practices, Young said.
“We all have to be willing to change,” Young said.
Babies who are born just a little bit early don’t face the uphill battles to live like micropreemies, but they are at higher risk for health issues at the time of birth and down the line.
Babies born after 39 weeks tend to be larger and more developed.
Vital organs – particularly the brain and lungs – are still developing in the last few weeks.
In the last six weeks of pregnancy, a baby’s brain adds connections needed for balance, coordination, learning and social functioning, according to the March of Dimes. At 35 weeks, the brain is two-thirds the size of the brain at 39 to 40 weeks.
Research has shown that babies born a few weeks early are more likely to be re-hospitalized and to have more breathing problems than full-term infants.
Babies born too soon are too small and can have difficulty maintaining their body temperature.
The March of Dimes Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait could have a significant impact on Mississippi babies, who already face the nation’s highest rates of prematurity and infant mortality.
“Their efforts to help educate moms and OBs about the importance of waiting until your baby is ready to be delivered will be a critical component in improving Mississippi’s prematurity rate,” said Dina Ray, state director of the March of Dimes Mississippi chapter.
What to do
Not every case of premature birth can be prevented, and in many cases, physicians are never able to pinpoint what caused a woman to deliver early.
However, medical research does point to a number of things women can do to reduce their risk of delivering before 39 weeks, Young said.
Getting early prenatal care is vital, Young said. Health care professionals can identify risk factors before they threaten pregnancies and often develop plans to manage the risks.
“If there are risk factors, a lot of them can be improved by treating them early,” he said.
Conditions like gestational diabetes and pregnancy-induced hypertension can usually be managed so they don’t become a threat to baby or mom, he said.
Exercise and a healthy diet can be tremendously helpful to the mother and baby’s health and well being, too.
Women who smoke should stop. Tobacco use increases the risk for preterm labor.
Any other substance abuse issues need to be addressed to prevent harm to the developing baby, including preterm labor.
Additionally, for women who have previously delivered a preterm baby, certain medications may be helpful.
March for Babies
WHEN: 9:30 a.m. April 20
WHERE: Fairpark, downtown Tupelo
BENEFITS: March of Dimes
MORE INFO: Wendy Parker at (662) 523-9333 or visit marchforbabies.org