How to encourage a healthy pregnancy

Man and pregnant woman on bed

An increasingly popular elective surgical procedure carries
health risks for newborn babies and mothers, yet a new survey shows
a majority of first-time mothers are largely unaware of the
An increasingly popular elective surgical procedure carries health risks for newborn babies and mothers, yet a new survey shows a majority of first-time mothers are largely unaware of the dangers.

Elective cesarean section deliveries are at an all-time high in the United States, with 1.4 million newborns delivered surgically in 2007, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From 1996 to 2007, the rate of C-sections had risen 53 percent, representing about a third of all U.S. births.


March of Dimes event

When: May 16

Where: Christmas Hill Park, 7050 Miller Ave., Gilroy

Distance: 5 miles

Registration: 8 a.m.

Start Time: 9 a.m.

Details: (408) 260-7629


C-sections, especially those that are not required for medical reasons, have been linked to higher rates of surgical complications and rehospitalizations for the mother. Babies born before 37 weeks are more likely to die of sudden-infant death syndrome (SIDS), have breathing problems, and are more likely to have learning and behavior problems, according to numerous published studies.

Yet a majority of first-time mothers are unaware of those risks. According to a recently released national survey, more than 90 percent of first-time mothers believe it’s safe to deliver a baby before 37 weeks of gestation.

Only about 8 percent of survey respondents accurately identified 39 to 40 weeks as being the earliest point in pregnancy to safely deliver with minimal risk of a medical complication. Nearly 41 percent of respondents answered 37 to 38 weeks as the earliest point. More than half the women surveyed chose 34 to 36 weeks.

In addition, nearly one in four respondents considered a baby to be full-term at 34 to 36 weeks, even though American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) defines full-term as 37 weeks.

The goal of the survey, commissioned by UnitedHealthcare, was to gauge women’s understanding of full-term pregnancy and the gestational age at which it’s safe to deliver a healthy baby. The survey queried 650 insured, first-time mothers from varied geographic, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The results of the survey were published in the December 2009 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the journal of ACOG.

The study findings underscore how important education is to improve health and well-being. Other studies have already shown that efforts to educate physicians make a positive impact in helping to reduce the rate of elective pre-term deliveries. We should also consider similar outreach among women to help stem the rise in such deliveries.

The reason for concern is simple: As the number of pre-term and early-term births has increased, there also have been increases in health risks for early-term infants, most of whom require extended hospital stays. Parents suffer as well, missing out on important bonding time with their newborns, and some even experience depression.

Reducing health risks for newborns and mothers is among the goals of the March of Dimes, a national nonprofit that supports programs to help expectant mothers have healthy, full-term pregnancies. This month, thousands of people in California and nationwide will participate in March for Babies, an annual fundraising walk. To support the effort, UnitedHealthcare has formed employee-walk teams in California and nationwide.

The decision to induce labor early or perform a C-section before a pregnancy is full-term should take clinical recommendations into account and reflect the baby’s and mother’s health and medical needs, not convenience. To be sure, the last few weeks of pregnancy for many mothers can seem endless and often uncomfortable. But expectant parents should take the opportunity to learn just how important the last few remaining weeks are for their baby’s development and health.

More information about how to have a healthy pregnancy is available at

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