When you ask expecting parents what their biggest wish for their child is, many will say their only hope is for a happy and healthy baby. What many pregnant moms don’t realize though is that there are many things they can do now to protect their baby’s health in the future.
If you’re seeking ways to help your baby be healthier, Dr. Cameual Wright, Medical Director for CareSource, a nonprofit health plan, is providing five quick tips on what expecting mothers need to know before, during and after their pregnancy:
1. Build healthy habits to prevent infant mortality.
Every year, about 600 Indiana babies die before their first birthdays, according to the Times of Northwest Indiana. In fact, Indiana has the eighth-highest infant mortality rate in the nation. The state ranks very low in many areas that are risk factors for infant mortality, including obesity and low birth weight, but if a mother takes care of her own health during pregnancy and remains active, this can reduce the chances of a low birth weight.
Low birth weight is when a baby is born weighing less than five pounds, eight ounces, according to the March of Dimes. There are several long-term effects that a low birth weight could have on a baby, including breathing problems, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Engaging in organized exercise for just 15 minutes three times a week and gradually increasing it to 30-minute sessions four days a week or every day is an easy way to see positive results throughout your pregnancy.
Folic acid is also a necessary part of fetal development during pregnancy. Eating foods with plenty of folic acid, like fortified cereals, lentils, oranges and avocado, and taking a prenatal vitamin can drastically improve your baby’s health.
2. Quit smoking to provide a healthier environment for the baby.
In 2010, approximately 17 percent of women in Indiana smoked during pregnancy, considerably higher than the national average of 12.8 percent, according to IN.gov.
Twenty to thirty percent of the cases of low birth weight babies can be attributed to smoking. Babies of mothers who smoked during pregnancy also have twice the risk of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) than infants of nonsmoking mothers. And finally, pregnant smokers have a 30-50 percent higher risk of miscarriage than nonsmokers.
Pregnant women should know that it’s never too late to quit smoking during pregnancy. After just one day of not smoking, the benefits are already substantial, providing babies with more oxygen and increasing the mother’s energy levels. There is also less risk that babies will be born prematurely when expecting mothers quit. The program “Baby & Me Tobacco Free” will be at the CareSource Mom & Baby Community Fair to answer any additional questions pregnant mothers might have about smoking and pregnancy.
3. Follow safe sleep guidelines.
Once your baby is born, follow safe sleeping practices recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Babies should always be put to sleep on their backs and in a crib, bassinet or portable crib. Babies should never sleep in bed with you, and shouldn’t have stuffed animals, crib bumpers or pillows in their sleeping area. These tips all help protect your baby from SUID or other accidents that can lead to infant mortality.
4. Breastfeed your baby.
The best way to protect your baby’s health is to breastfeed until your baby is a year old. It helps you pass some of the protection your immune system has on to your baby and can keep them healthier than babies who aren’t breastfed. Breastmilk also contains all of the nutrients and fluids your baby needs, so giving them solely breastmilk for the first six months helps them get the fuel they need to grow.
5. Work with your doctor to create healthier habits.
It’s vital that pregnant women work hard to create healthier habits, and recognize when they need help doing that. Women who may need treatment for mental health issues, alcohol abuse or drug addiction should know that they aren’t alone. Their doctor can help them find treatment options to keep them healthy before, during and after pregnancy. This is especially important because we know that a mother’s health, both while pregnant and after, directly impacts her children’s health.
As the opioid epidemic continues in Indiana, drug addiction is of particular concern for women who are considering having children. If opioids are taken regularly during a pregnancy, this can lead to withdrawals in the baby. In Indiana, this affected more than 650 infants in 2014 alone, according to a report by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation. The best way to protect babies from these problems is to stop taking these medications during the pregnancy and to seek treatment if you are addicted to opioids. For information about treatment options and help locating addiction resources, visit CareSource.com/addiction.
Dr. Cameual Wright, is medical director for CareSource, a nonprofit health plan.