Prevention of Preterm Birth Starts with a Healthy Mom

November 17 is World Prematurity Day. It gives us, as health professionals, an opportunity to direct our attention to a devastating health issue that impacts 15 million babies each year and rededicate ourselves to reducing that number. Several organizations, including ACOG, are supporting the cause through education, awareness, and advocacy events. However, there’s one event in particular that, coincidentally, started this week and stands to make the most significant impact in terms of lowering the preterm birth rate in this country and that’s open enrollment through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Prevention of preterm birth starts with a healthy mom and that means access to prenatal care and preventive services. There are several risk factors for preterm birth, some of which include high blood pressure, low pre-pregnancy weight, alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, a prior preterm birth and a birth less than 12 months ago. Adequate health insurance coverage can make the difference between a pregnant woman carrying to term or delivering too early and the Affordable Care Act has helped make that coverage accessible to millions of women.

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Setting the Record Straight on Drinking During Pregnancy

When confronted with so many different types of infections and viruses that can threaten the health of an unborn baby, it’s unfortunate that drinking during pregnancy is still the leading cause of birth defects in this country and abroad. Without knowledge of the devastating effects, it’s easy to have a casual attitude toward drinking but when a fetus is exposed to any amount of alcohol it can lead to a number of permanent and debilitating conditions. These are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) and can include anything from severe brain damage and growth deficits to lifelong learning and behavioral problems in children. September is designated as FASD Awareness Month but my hope is that at some point in the near future there is no longer a need to observe it because the fact is—FASD is 100 percent preventable.

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Immunization is Crucial for Pregnant Patients and Their Babies

As ob-gyns, we know the important role that vaccination plays in the health of mother and baby. It is one of our best options in reducing their chances of morbidity and mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases. Additionally, vaccination helps prevents the spread of certain infectious diseases.

The fall is usually when we start reminding women to get their annual flu vaccine, especially if they are pregnant. However, recent reports of whooping cough (pertussis) and measles exposure underscore the need to discuss other vaccinations with our patients. August is National Immunization Awareness Month and a great time to talk to your pregnant patients about immunization.

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Call to Action for an International Day for Maternal Health and Rights

Vineeta Gupta MD, JD, LL.M Technical Director, Global Women's Health American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Vineeta Gupta MD, JD, LL.M
Technical Director, Global Women’s Health
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

A woman dies from pregnancy or childbirth every two minutes. Almost all of these deaths (99%) are in developing countries. The most heartbreaking part is that the vast majority of these deaths are preventable.

As the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women, ACOG strongly advocates for quality health care for women – everywhere.

That’s why, in an effort to demonstrate the urgency of global action to protect maternal health and rights, ACOG recognizes today as the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights.

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It’s Not Too Late to Vaccinate Your Patients Against Influenza

The New Year is upon us. Unfortunately, it also coincides with flu season and we still have a long way to go when it comes to educating our patients on the benefits of the influenza vaccine. A recent poll found that many Americans don’t believe they need the flu shot. Those who haven’t been immunized cited a variety of reasons including the belief that the flu shot is unnecessary, belief that the vaccination is ineffective, concerns about the side effects or risk and worries that the vaccine could infect them with the flu. As clinicians, we know that the flu shot is safe, effective, and the best protection our patients have against influenza. It is our job to communicate these messages to all of our patients, especially pregnant women.

December 6th marked the beginning of National Influenza Vaccination Week, a national campaign to urge everyone to get the flu vaccine. Throughout the entire flu season, I encourage all health care providers to strongly recommend the flu shot to your patients, emphasizing the importance of this simple preventative health action.

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Happy 50th Birthday, Medicaid & Medicare!

50thBirthdayMedicare_Facebook

It’s hard to believe that it’s been half of a century since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicaid, along with Medicare, into law. Even though Medicare more commonly provides coverage for a smaller fraction of the patients in a typical ob-gyn practice, it still is an example of a national program that works very well, providing coverage for more than 50 million people. Over the past 50 years, Medicaid has grown to cover more than 71 million Americans — nearly one in ten women relies on Medicaid for health coverage which includes family planning, screening for breast and cervical cancer, and long-term services and support. In fact, Medicaid covered 45% of all U.S. births in 2010 and plays a critical role in ensuring access to pregnancy-related care. Without Medicaid, many women would struggle to access or be unable to afford the care we provide.

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Help Prevent Group B Strep this Month

July is International Group B Strep Awareness Month. Group B Strep (GBS), found in 10–30% of pregnant women, is the leading cause of sepsis and meningitis in newborns, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Ob-gyns have long been aware that preventing GBS is a key part of our commitment to protecting the health of newborns. Now we have the tools at our fingertips—literally—to be more effective. Continue reading

ACOG and ACA: Investing in Women’s Health

As many of you know, I started my ACOG presidency announcing 2013 as “The Year of the Woman” because for the first time we, as a nation, are investing in women’s health care with the Affordable Care Act. It is an investment in our future when we provide all women with preconception care, prenatal care, and contraception.

I spent last week in Washington, DC, discussing the impact of environmental chemicals on our reproductive health with our elected officials. And what a week it was! I saw firsthand the dedication of the furloughed employees who were trying to help everyone. I heard the frustration of many DC residents as they faced reduced work hours and uncertainty about what the next day or week will bring.

Amidst all of this chaos, the ACA’s health insurance exchanges opened for business. Yes, there are going to be some difficulties along the road with implementing health care reform, but there will be fewer of them when we work together to make health care changes a success.

I was in the hair salon recently and found out that the women working there had no health coverage. I opened my iPad and showed them how to enroll in Covered California. In no time, they logged in, found affordable benefits, and were singing its praises. These are working women who had gone without coverage because they could not afford it and their small businesses did not provide health benefits. All of these women—some young, some single moms—all shared one uncertainty: What would they do if they became sick? They had not even considered getting preventive health care.

We need our government to open for business, we need to work on our health care delivery system, and we need to remind everyone that women are finally getting what we said is essential all along: Screening for cervical and breast cancer, screening for intimate partner violence and depression, contraception coverage, and prenatal care. Worrying about not being able to afford or even get health insurance because of a pre-existing condition can now be a thing of the past. Losing your health insurance coverage during the course of a difficult disease when you need it the most can also be a worry of the past. What a wonderful year!

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Big HIV News and An Important Reminder

Earlier this week it was reported that a Mississippi toddler born with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) apparently cleared her HIV infection and is now disease-free. The story of her innovative medical treatment and remarkable results is truly exciting. However, as an ob-gyn, I can’t help but think that this entire situation could have been avoided.

Today in the US, mother-to-child transmission of HIV is a rare occurrence. HIV-positive women have roughly a 2% chance of passing along the virus to their babies. This is due in large part to increased HIV screening among pregnant women. Those who test positive for HIV during pregnancy can begin treatment with antiretroviral medications before they give birth. These medications significantly reduce the risk that a child will be born with HIV. The earlier the medication is given during pregnancy, the better, but it can still have a positive effect when administered just 24–48 hours before delivery and/or to the newborn within the first two days of life.

ACOG recommends that all pregnant women be screened for HIV as a part of routine prenatal care. Repeat third-trimester testing is also recommended for pregnant women in areas with high HIV prevalence. Not all women receive prenatal care, and it’s not uncommon for ob-gyns to see women for the first time when they come to the hospital to deliver. In this case, rapid HIV testing can confirm a woman’s HIV status. If she tests positive, she may still be able to receive medication in time to protect her baby from infection.

I cannot stress enough the importance of knowing your HIV status. Screening is the best method we have to both head off HIV transmission to infants and stop the spread of the disease to people of all ages. In addition to the screening recommendations for pregnant women, ACOG also recommends that all women ages 19–64 be routinely screened for HIV, regardless of individual risk factors.

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Prenatal Screenings: Spot Health Risks Before Birth

During pregnancy, ob-gyns use routine lab and diagnostic tests to help monitor the health of women and their babies, identify problems, and develop treatment plans. Most women will receive these common screenings as part of their prenatal care:

  • Blood glucose tests screen for the amount of sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream. High levels can signal diabetes. Unchecked diabetes can lead to liver damage, birth defects, stillbirth, and other complications for mother and baby.
  • Blood type and antibody testing determines a woman’s blood group (A, B, AB, or O) and Rh type (positive or negative). Fetal problems may occur when an Rh negative woman carries a fetus that is Rh positive.
  • Screening for birth defects (such as Down Syndrome) may be performed in the first and/or second trimester.
  • Late in pregnancy, women are tested for group B streptococcus (GBS) bacteria, which can cause infections of the blood, lungs, brain, or spinal cord in infants. GBS can be transmitted from an infected mother to the baby during delivery.
  • Hemacrit and hemoglobin tests check the blood for low iron levels (anemia).
  • HBV testing screens for Hepatitis B, a virus that affects the liver and can cause severe complications in newborns if passed from mother to baby.
  • All pregnant women should be screened for HIV infection—a disease that attacks the body’s immune system. Treatment of HIV-positive mothers during pregnancy can drastically reduce the risk that the infants will become infected and help improve the mother’s health.
  • A blood test is used to check for signs of past rubella (German measles) infection. Pregnant women who have not had or not been vaccinated against rubella should avoid any infected individuals and be vaccinated after delivery.
  • Screening for sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, may be recommended. They can cause preterm birth, miscarriage, eye infections, birth defects, or other problems.
  • At each prenatal visit, urine analysis checks for elevated blood sugar and protein levels and signs of bladder and kidney infections.

Depending on a woman’s age, health history, or ethnic background, additional screenings may be offered for genetic disorders and birth defects, such as cystic fibrosis or spina bifida. Learn more about prenatal screenings on ACOG’s website.