Part of a multi-column series focused on Maternal and Infant Health in Southeast Arkansas

While discussing the national concerns about maternal mortality – that is, women dying due to complications of childbirth – I would be remiss if I did not address overall maternal health in this column as well. As a nurse manager, I know that hospitals need to continue to make improvements to align with improving outcomes, and I’m proud that our state and local hospital have seen wide success after implementing many safety measures. We are ahead of the curve. However, ensuring overall maternal health needs to begin long before mom is admitted with labor pains. Screening for serious health concerns begins much earlier.

In my last column, I mentioned how important it is for a hospital’s Labor & Delivery unit to screen pregnant moms for risk factors for two major causes of maternal mortality – postpartum hemorrhage and hypertensive emergencies. One of the best ways to identify and minimize your risks of developing either of these is by getting early and consistent prenatal care.

If you have an idea of what “prenatal care” means, you may not be surprised by this statistic from WomensHealth.gov – Babies of mothers who do not get prenatal care are three times more likely to have a low birth weight and five times more likely to die than those born to mothers who do get care. Prenatal care, defined, means both mothers and babies are monitored, regularly, throughout pregnancy by an obstetric care team. Your prenatal care may be provided by an obstetrician/gynecologist, a family physician with training in obstetrics, a nurse practitioner, a certified nurse midwife, or a perinatologist (an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies). What you may not realize is that it’s not just infants who benefit so significantly from prenatal care – their moms do too.

Identifying complications early through regular prenatal appointments makes a big difference in your delivery experience. Monticello is lucky to have three physicians who provide Obstetric services – which means they deliver babies right here in Drew County and provide prenatal care to pregnant women.

Screening for serious health concerns begins in your obstetrician’s office. Doctors monitor symptoms of pregnancy, health of the developing fetus, and any signs of risks and complications that could lead to delivery complications. It is so important to know how your vital signs and blood work change over time throughout pregnancy. In some cases, you may make changes to medication, eating habits, and physical strain that can decrease the likelihood of severe pregnancy complications. Your physician and other prenatal care providers will monitor your vital signs, weight, blood and urine closely throughout the 40-week pregnancy, and this information will be available when you are admitted for delivery.

Having this established and consistent medical history on file when we admit you puts your labor & delivery team ahead in two ways. First, we will be able to identify immediately whether you’re already at a higher risk for postpartum issues like hemorrhage and hypertensive emergency, and we can more easily recognize atypical vital changes after delivery.

Not keeping regular prenatal appointments puts both the baby and the mother at risk for not catching serious issues as they may arise. The best advice I can give an expectant mom is to remain in contact with your doctor and have regular prenatal appointments. If you have to miss one, always reschedule it.

Finally, there are many more aspects of improving maternal health that extend beyond delivery. In my next column I’ll discuss local and national trends in post-partum care that are proven to improve health outcomes both for new moms and for their babies.

Kristen Smith, a registered nurse, is the director of labor & delivery, nursery, and education at Drew Memorial Health System in Monticello.

Previous columns:

Introduction

Statewide Attention on Maternal Mortality

Local Efforts Improving Infant Mortality