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Lessons from AABC Strong Start

AABC's Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns Initiative was a program available at many AABC birth centers across the nation between 2013 and 2016 to help give newborns a strong start on life. The program assisted pregnant women who received prenatal birth center care with learning how to lower their risk of having  a preterm birth. Strong Start's mission was to help a woman to have the healthiest baby possible by giving her the support and knowledge to become and stay healthy during pregnancy. Participating birth centers used AABC's Perinatal Data Registry (PDR) to track and record data about the prenatal condition of its participants to learn more about how to prevent preterm birth.

In addition to their prenatal care with midwives, participants in Strong Start were provided with peer counselors to facilitate individual support. Managing stress, eating well, and making lifestyle changes were some of the ways the Strong Start teams focused pregnant mothers on staying healthy for the wellbeing of their babies.


Managing Stress

Stress is a normal part of everyday life. Pregnancy can sometimes add new worries, concerns, pressures, and feelings. Things that you used to handle easily may now seem overwhelming. Problems that once seemed simple might suddenly be difficult to tackle. Multiple tasks you once juggled smoothly may become a confusing mess. Even when everything is going well, you might feel like crying.

When you are pregnant, it is more important than ever to manage your levels of stress. There are strategies and exercises you can do to manage or lower your stress. For some people, it helps to take a walk, talk to a friend, play with pets, take deep breaths, or write down your thoughts. Others relieve stress by exercising, reading, or sitting in a quiet place. Every person is different, and your midwife can help you find what works for you.


Eating Right

It is especially important to maintain a healthy diet while you are pregnant. What you eat affects your developing infant and will, in part, determine how healthy your child will be. Keep in mind that your baby's prenatal nutritional needs include protein for brain growth, calcium for strong bones, vitamins and fiber found in dark green and orange vegetables and whole fruits. While you are pregnant, your diet should also include whole grains and fish oil to strengthen your baby's immune system. While you may be getting these important vitamins and minerals from taking your prenatal vitamin, it is important to remember that this should be in addition to a well-balanced diet.  Your baby needs extra vitamins and minerals in the womb to develop properly and to be strong.

Here are more tips for a healthy diet during pregnancy:

  • Your midwife can tell you how many servings of each food group you need to eat each day
  • Stay away from foods that are high in sugar and salt
  • Stay away from foods that are fried
  • Do not eat foods with little nutritional value
  • Your midwife can tell you which foods are not safe for you and should be avoided.  These include unpasteurized milk or soft cheeses, fish that is high in mercury, raw fish or sushi, and uncooked or undercooked meats.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of water - at least 8 glasses or 4 bottles per day


Having a healthier baby

Managing stress, eating right, and building a strong support system will help you to have a healthier baby. But what else can you do?

When you're pregnant, it's important to avoid exposing your developing baby to chemicals and toxins that may cause harm while he or she is growing. Avoid harmful chemicals in your house and at work such as strong cleaning products. Some of the most dangerous chemicals are pesticides or bug sprays (these are bad for young children, too). Also consider that it is safer to use "low VOC" paints instead of oil based paints in rooms your baby will use after birth. Remember that anything you breathe in or put into or on your body can go straight to your growing baby.

Here are some things to avoid:

  • Tobacco use (smoking or being around second hand smoke)
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Drugs or prescriptions not ordered for you

If you need help quitting smoking or using other harmful substances, consult your midwife and she will direct you to the help you need. If you aren't sure about a chemical, ask your midwife or don't use it. 

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