We don’t fully understand all the reasons for babies being born preterm, however we do know that some lifestyle factors can really increase your risk. Premature birth can be dangerous for your baby and difficult and distressing for you, but there are changes you can make to reduce the danger of your little one being born too soon.
Drop the drugs
Recreational drugs including cocaine, heroin and ecstasy can seriously harm you and your baby. Cocaine use is associated with premature membrane rupture and placental abruption, both of which predispose to early labour. Heroin too can cause serious problems for your baby, including premature delivery and withdrawal symptoms for your little one after the birth. If you have developed dependency and are struggling to come off the drugs, it is important to see your doctor for help to withdraw.
Manage your weight
Overweight or underweight? Being underweight, with a BMI below 18.5, or obese with a BMI above 30, before pregnancy makes you more likely to need an early delivery. So, exercise regularly, eat a healthy balanced diet and if you’re planning a pregnancy, aim to get your BMI between 20 and 25.
If you’re physically active throughout pregnancy you’ll look better, feel better and decrease the risk of complications like Gestational Diabetes and Pre-eclampsia, which can lead to premature birth.
You don’t need lycra or legwarmers to live an active life. Take the stairs, park at the far end of the car park, go for a walk with the family instead of watching the telly; anything to get your muscles working and your blood pumping
Consider your emotional health
Pregnancy can be a time of great joy, but it can also trigger feelings of fear and stress. Women who are anxious or depressed appear to be at a higher risk of giving birth prematurely. We’re not really sure why, but it could be because their mental health issues make them less likely to look after themselves and choose a healthy lifestyle.
Nurture and nourish yourself as well as your baby. Take time out to rest, relax and do things that you enjoy. Changing your diet, exercising, getting out in the sunlight and confiding in friends can all help you deal with your feelings of depression. But sometimes you need outside help. So, see your midwife or GP for support, guidance and some proper treatment to help start you on the road to recovery.
Smoking doesn’t just affect your lungs and your heart, it can also harm your growing baby. Babies whose mothers smoke during pregnancy are at greater risk of being born too early, which can increase the risk of breathing problems and illness in the neonatal period. If you smoke, the placenta is also at increased risk of coming away from the wall of the womb in the last trimester. This can put you and your baby’s lives in danger and also lead to preterm delivery.
Bin the booze
Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of your baby having a low birth weight and being born before term. Banning booze is the safest option, but if you do decide to indulge, stick to one or two units, once or twice a week.
Premature birth and infection
Lots of infections can cause problems when you’re expecting. Some viruses and bacteria can cause specific problems for you or your baby, but any infection that makes you unwell can affect your immune system and potentially lead to further illness and an early birth. So, it’s important to maintain your own well being and avoid infections whenever you can. Find out more in our guide to Premature birth and infection.
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