One in eight babies in Nebraska is born too soon, which can lead to a host of health problems ranging from blindness and deafness to cerebral palsy and learning disabilities.
That’s why the March of Dimes and a number of physicians, including those from Methodist Women’s Hospital, are doing all they can to prevent early births.
November is Prematurity Awareness Month and with it comes an effort to get the word out, letting expectant mothers and those who plan to get pregnant know what they can do to give their babies the best shot.
“If they didn’t smoke or chose not to smoke, that would help. Or if they have medical problems where they knew if they would get pregnant we could tune up a little bit,” said Dr. Andrew Robertson, Perinatal Center Director for Methodist. That includes getting in better physical shape, he said, prior to becoming pregnant.
Natalia Stevens of Omaha had done everything right when she became pregnant with her first baby. “The whole thing was going great,” she said. That’s why she was shocked when she went into pre-term labor at just 25 weeks along. “And so I didn't even know it was gonna happen like that,” she said. “I've never had medical problems."
Then Stevens learned what the problem was. “I had an incompetent cervix, so basically, the cervix just couldn't hold the weight of the baby,” she said.
Dr. Robertson said, “The problem is - a lot of the early signs of preterm labor are very similar to the same complaints that most women have when they’re pregnant. They feel a little pressure. Their back hurts a little bit. They have menstrual cramps. All those are potentially normal, but all of those are also potentially problems that can be related to going into labor early.”
He said it’s very difficult for patients to know the difference. “And so the key is to basically try to find those patients and do something early. Once they’ve already started the process it gets hard to stop.”
In hind sight, Stevens had a slight indicator of trouble, what she thought was urine leaking. She mentioned it in a phone call with her doctor’s office at the time, but didn’t make a big fuss of it.
“It ended up being amniotic fluid," Stevens said. Her daughter did not survive. “That was really tough,” she said. “So when I got pregnant a second time, it was really scary.”
The second time around, armed with the knowledge that she was high-risk, as well as Dr. Robertson’s expertise, working with her obstetrician, they were able to keep her health issues in check. Extra close monitoring, medication and a surgical procedure were all employed in the fight.
Natalia gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Asher two and a half years ago. And Asher is now looking forward to meeting his *new* baby brother, due in six weeks.
"We just feel like we're so blessed that we've made it this far,” said Natalia. “We haven't had any challenges. The doctors, God, Methodist - it's just been amazing."
She urges other mothers to speak up and get to the doctor right away if something doesn’t seem quite right, to give babies their best shot at happily ever after.
For more information on prematurity, warning signs of pre-term labor and preventative measures, click on the links below.