Breaking News: World Health Organization Releases 49 New Pregnancy Guidelines

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The World Health Organization released an onslaught of new recommendations this week for women who are pregnant. They all sounded very familiar to women and doctors in the United States.

A blitz of new guidelines for pregnant women were issued this week by the World Health Organization, sending expectant mothers into a frenzy. But once they read the recommendations…they all sounded very familiar.

See a doctor at least eight times during the pregnancy, take folic acid and iron pills to prevent  anemia, sepsis and premature birth. Get an ultrasound before 24 weeks’ gestation.

“Women in the United States may see this and say, ‘Oh no,’” said Kelly Kasper, M.D., an obstetrician/gynecologist at Indiana University Health. “The fact is, it’s probably not going to be a change for them.”

WHO, an agency focused on international public health, likely issued the guidelines to catch the attention of health care providers in countries where little to no antenatal or prenatal care takes place. “In some of those countries, the first visit a pregnant woman makes to a doctor is when she’s in labor,” Dr. Kasper said. “This is WHO’s attempt to educate our world health providers. It’s WHO’s attempt to try to set up the importance of antenatal care.”

An estimated 303,000 women died from pregnancy-related causes in 2016. When it comes to babies, the numbers are even more startling. In releasing the new guidelines, WHO said that 2.6 million babies were stillborn last year, while another 2.7 million babies died during the first 28 days of their lives. Quality health care during pregnancy and childbirth could have prevented many of those deaths, WHO said. Yet globally, just 64 percent of women receive the appropriate care when pregnant. That’s why one of the organization’s biggest goals with the new guidelines is to encourage more frequent prenatal care.

WHO’s new care model increases the number of times a woman should go to the doctor during her pregnancy from four to eight. That can potentially reduce perinatal deaths by up to 8 per 1,000 births when compared to the minimum of four visits, the agency said. It recommends a pregnant woman have her first visit within the initial 12 weeks’ gestation, with subsequent visits happening at 20, 26, 30, 34, 36, 38 and 40 weeks.

Kasper said this is the norm for most women in the U.S., but a trend toward home births has stifled healthcare for some expectant mothers. “The big take away from these guidelines for us in the U.S. is this: Even if you do home birth, you still need healthcare,” she said. “If you’re not seeing someone who is trained, you’re increasing your risk.”

A sampling of WHO’s new guidelines for pregnant women:

Get counseling on healthy eating and keeping physically active during pregnancy.

Daily oral iron and folic acid supplementation with 30mg to 60mg of elemental iron and 400mcg folic acid to prevent maternal anaemia, puerperal sepsis, low birth weight and preterm birth.

Tetanus toxoid vaccination to prevent neonatal mortality from tetanus.

One ultrasound scan before 24 weeks’ gestation to estimate gestational age, improve detection of fetal anomalies and multiple pregnancies and reduce induction of labor for post-term pregnancy.

Health-care providers should ask all pregnant women about their use of alcohol and other substances (past and present) as early as possible in the pregnancy and at every antenatal visit.

-- By Dana Benbow

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