Good Health May Help Prevent Preterm Birth Fact Sheet

View Good Health May Help Prevent Preterm Birth Fact Sheet (PDF, 107 KB) »

Before pregnancy

  • The childbearing years begin with a woman's first menstrual period and end with menopause. On average that means approximately 40 years that a woman's body is physically capable of becoming pregnant.
  • Many women choose to use some form of birth control to better plan when and if they desire to become pregnant. Women should plan their pregnancies whenever possible and work to establish their own best health prior to getting pregnant. However, half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.
  • Women need to be aware that the choices they make each day can affect not only their own health, but also the health of a baby they may conceive without even trying.
  • Serious birth defects that affect a baby's brain and spine occur in the first 28 days of pregnancy - before many women realize that they are pregnant. But women who take a multivitamin each and every day routinely can help to drastically reduce their risk of having a baby with these serious birth defects.

Measures childbearing-age women can take  

  • See a doctor for regular yearly checkups, a Pap smear and breast exam.
  • If necessary, see a specialist for any chronic diseases and keep them under control (especially diabetes, low thyroid and high blood pressure).
  • Visit the dentist regularly to prevent dental infections and tooth decay. In addition, brush with a fluoride toothpaste and rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash twice a day, and floss daily.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet every day. Include a variety of foods from each food group, and especially try to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fat-free milk and water are also important. Many types of fish are a healthy source of protein for women both before and during pregnancy, however, there are some fish that contain high levels of mercury and those should not be eaten without talking to a health care provider for the latest recommendations.
  • Take a multivitamin containing 400 mcg of folic acid daily to help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine. Folic acid is also important for the growth and repair of every cell in the body.
  • Exercise for 20 minutes three or more times a week. Always check with your health care provider before beginning any exercise program.
  • Ideally, a woman should see a doctor for a pre-pregnancy checkup before she tries to become pregnant. Talking to a health professional about ways to adopt a healthy lifestyle increases the chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
  • It is best to plan pregnancies. Experts agree that spacing children at least 18 months apart gives a woman's body the time it needs to fully recover from childbirth before becoming pregnant again. For advice about planning pregnancies, a woman can talk to her health care provider or local health department.
  • Doctors can answer questions about dangerous environmental substances such as lead that may be found at home or at work and what to do about them.
  • Before a woman becomes pregnant, she should talk to her health care provider if she needs help with quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol and other drugs.

During pregnancy

  • As soon as a woman thinks she is pregnant, she should make an appointment to begin early prenatal care and keep going for regular visits. 
  • She should continue taking her multivitamin every day until she sees the doctor. At that time, the health care provider may tell her to begin taking a prenatal vitamin instead. Prenatal vitamins contain at least 600 mcg of folic acid, the amount needed during pregnancy.
  • Folic acid helps to lower the baby's risk for developing serious birth defects that affect the brain and spine. These birth defects occur in the first 28 days of pregnancy, before most women realize they're pregnant. Folic acid is also necessary for the production of DNA, essential for rapid cell growth needed to make fetal tissue and organs early in pregnancy. This is why women need to have enough folic acid in their bodies before, during and after pregnancy. Folic acid cannot be stored or "saved up" in the body. A pregnant woman must continue to consume enough folic acid every single day, and when pregnant, the exact amount that you need is in the prenatal vitamin. 
  • A pregnant woman should drink 8-10 glasses of water daily. It helps ensure that her body can replenish the amniotic fluid every four hours, as needed. Water can help alleviate the symptoms of premature labor. It also aids digestion, can relieve constipation and can help prevent bladder infections (a risk for preterm labor)
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, street drugs and secondhand smoke. 
  • Ask her health care provider before taking any prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs or herbal preparations. If she is taking a prescription medication and finds out that she is pregnant, she should not stop taking the medicine until she talks to her health care provider.
  • Avoid drinking more than 12 ounces of caffeine containing beverages (coffees, teas, colas, hot chocolate) a day, for a maximum of 200 mg/day. If she doesn't normally drink these types of beverages, she shouldn't start.
  • Avoid saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms. Pregnant women need to avoid overheating, especially during the first trimester, as it may increase the risk of certain birth defects of the baby's brain and spine.
  • Avoid handling used cat litter or eating undercooked meat. These can cause an infection called toxoplasmosis, which is harmful to the baby.
  • Try to avoid stress. She should reach out to other pregnant women, family and friends for support. If she feels depressed or unsafe at all, she should tell her provider; there are people who can help her.
  • Gain the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy, usually 25 to 35 pounds for a woman who begins pregnancy at a normal weight.
  • Take an active role in her pregnancy and birth.
  • Sign up for and attend prenatal classes.
  • Ask for information on breastfeeding.
  • See a dentist.
  • Communicate with her health care provider and her partner.

Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait® is a multifaceted partnership of the March of Dimes, the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute and the Kentucky Department for Public Health. The primary goal of the initiative is a 15 percent reduction in the rate of "preventable" single preterm births - particularly babies born late preterm (four to six weeks early) - in three targeted intervention sites in Kentucky: King's Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, Trover Health System Regional Medical Center of Hopkins County and the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital in Lexington. Health care teams at each site provide mothers-to-be with an integrated approach of education, counseling and clinical care. 

For more information call 1-800-333-8874 or visit our website at or the following sites:  

Page last updated: 8/10/2015 4:55:35 PM