Q: Why is it important to have medical care during a pregnancy?
A: Your medical provider, whether that person is an obstetrician or a certified nurse midwife, is specially trained to recognize and treat health issues during a pregnancy. Most pregnancy-related health problems are treatable and preventable. This is very important because a sick mother leads to a sick baby. We want to prevent both.
When mothers are malnourished or ill, or when they receive inadequate maternity care, their children are at higher risk of disease and death. The World Health Organization estimates that 30 to 40 percent of infant deaths could be prevented by keeping the mother healthy during the pregnancy. The burden of these losses is not only felt by the families but by the communities that depend on them. For women of child bearing age (15-44), maternal disorders are the leading cause of death.
The main purpose of antenatal (care of the mother before birth) is to reduce bad outcomes at birth. Early treatment of high blood pressure, detection and treatment of urinary tract infections, recognizing a baby in breech (head down) position, treatment of anemia are the main health issues of pregnancy. When they are detected early and treated the chance of death or illness is greatly reduced. Another health issue that affects pregnancy on the rise is obesity.
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Obesity is defined as having an excess of weight in proportion to one's height. Having a body mass index 30 or higher is considered to be obese. Obesity is complex disorder. It is just not cosmetic.
Being obese increases one's risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. All of these are crucial health issues during a pregnancy.
Women who seek prenatal care also tend to seek education about the birthing process. Historically women who have been to prenatal classes are less anxious and have fewer complications during the labor process.
I know your question was about prenatal care, but I would like to emphasize to you how important pre-conceptional (seeking care before you get pregnant) care is as well. We live in a time when many women plan their pregnancies. If you are thinking about getting pregnant it is important for you to be healthy even before you get pregnant. In fact, it is now recommended that all women who are in their childbearing years take a vitamin that includes folic acid, just in case they get pregnant. Women who are not obese and are in good general health will have less complicated pregnancies.
The health of the mother baby dyad has long reaching affects on our society as a whole. When the family is healthy our society will thrive. For those families with babies who have unavoidable health challenges due to twists of nature, then we must have support for them. Families are the basic unit of a society.
The health of the family will determine the health of a society.
Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital's Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Healthy Living. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.