Learn more about birth defect prevention

January is Birth Defect Prevention and Awareness Month and a perfect time to learn more about what you can do to avoid birth defects.

Many birth defects occur during the early weeks of pregnancy, some of which can have lifelong effects and are a major cause of infant mortality.

Testing for birth defects

Usually between the 16th and 18th weeks of pregnancy (and sometimes up to the 22nd week), you will be offered a screening called alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) screening. This test involves drawing blood from mom, with screening results usually available in one to two weeks.

The results are used along with other information, such as the mother’s age, any existing health problems or history of congenital diseases, and what medications or drugs she may be taking to determine the risk for birth defects.

High levels of alpha-fetoprotein may indicate a neural tube defect or problems with the baby’s esophagus or intestines. Low levels may indicate a genetic issue such as Down syndrome or Edwards syndrome. This screening test is not a diagnosis, but indicates there is a risk of these issues, and further testing may be needed.

Even with positive results, only 1 in 16 to 1 in 33 infants may actually have a neural tube defect or other issue. If results are positive, a second AFP test may be obtained, with an ultrasound. Further testing might also include an amniocentesis.

What you can do

Taking at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily, before and during pregnancy, has been shown to decrease the risk of neural tube defects. Folic acid, a B vitamin, is added to many cereals, breads, pastas and rice. You may also receive this nutrient through beans, peas, orange juice, broccoli or green leafy vegetables. Check the nutritional label of foods to see if they meet this important nutrient requirement.

Even if you don’t plan to get pregnant, be sure you receive the recommended daily requirement to help your body make new cells every day. Be sure you are as healthy as possible to begin your pregnancy and to decrease your baby’s risk of birth defects.

More information

American Pregnancy Association

March of Dimes

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

New research highlights the benefits of breastfeeding for moms

Two recent studies are highlighting more long-term benefits of breastfeeding for moms.

One study found that breastfeeding helps give Mom protection against a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. This study found that breastfeeding decreased the risk of hormone receptor negative tumors by up to 20 percent. These tumors are especially hard to treat, and are more common in young women and African Americans. Milk production following pregnancy causes changes in the milk duct cells making them more resistant to cancer. Even breastfeeding for a short period of time reduces the risk of this type of breast cancer.

Another study found that breastfeeding can help prevent development of Type 2 diabetes in women who developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Women who have gestational diabetes are seven times more likely to develop life-long diabetes after pregnancy. This large study followed women who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy from different ethnic backgrounds, for over two years. It found that 12 percent of these women went on to develop Type 2 diabetes. But if they breastfed, their risk was cut in half, and the longer they breastfed, the lower their risk of developing diabetes.

We know there are many benefits for babies from breastfeeding. Studies like these are showing Mom benefits greatly too. Breastfeeding is a win-win choice for everyone!

Prematurity Awareness Month

Tips to prevent preterm birth

November is Prematurity Awareness Month. Prematurity and its complications are the leading cause of death in children younger than 5 in the world today. Infants born before 37 weeks gestation have more complications than full-term babies, including problems with feeding and digestion, vision and hearing, and breathing.

Each November, the March of Dimes publishes a Premature Birth Report Card, which grades the U.S. and each state individually on prematurity rates for the previous year. The goal is to be at 8.1 percent, an objective set by the Healthy People 2020 initiative, a science-based, 10-year program to improve the health of all Americans. This year, the U.S. has a rate of 9.6 percent and earns a C letter grade. Kentucky’s rate is 10.7 percent, which unfortunately gives our state a D.

It is clear that there is room for improvement within our state and country. And while some risks for premature birth cannot be avoided, there are things you can do to help prevent a preterm birth. Here are a few tips:

  1. Stop smoking, or cut down to less than a half-pack per day. We know that smoking contributes to preterm birth, and a baby who lives in a house with smokers is also 3.5 times more likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome than a baby who doesn’t.
  2. Avoid alcohol and drugs.
  3. Get prenatal care. It does make a difference.
  4. Practice oral hygiene and see your dentist: oral infections can lead to systemic infections that can cause preterm labor.
  5. Practice stress reduction. Be aware of how you are handling stress and get sufficient exercise and rest to help get you ready for your new family member.

We don’t know why some babies come early, but we do know the above methods can help prevent it. Delivering at full term will help your baby be healthier, stronger and avoid the complications that come with preterm birth.


UK HealthCare allows new moms to practice skin to skin even after a C-section

Making each birthing experience the best for you

I helped a new mom perform skin to skin in the operating room recently. What an experience!

Mom had to have a scheduled cesarean section, and she asked if I could be there to help. It was an honor to be part of watching a new life emerge and seeing him gaze into his mother’s eyes for the first time. Even though a C-section wasn’t how Mom had imagined meeting her son, it was still a special moment as we placed him on her chest and helped her hold him close while her surgery was completed.

Diana Frankenburger

Diana Frankenburger

What struck me most about the operating room was how calm, relaxed, and positive everyone was. The circulating nurse made sure Mom was comfortable, reassured Dad and kept track of the procedure. The attending physician stayed with Mom during the prep, explained everything we were doing and bantered with the scrub tech about how much the baby would weigh. We don’t weigh babies until after their first hour with mom, so we had plenty of time to make our estimates.

From the anesthesiologist who explained things to Dad, to the second-year resident who made baby weight estimates with the rest of us, the atmosphere wasn’t formal. The procedure was conducted according to set quality and safety guidelines, but the tone and the message to the new parents were, “This is your birth experience. We want to make it the very best for you, as you welcome your little one to the world.”

Skin to skin in the operating room isn’t possible for everyone, but I’m glad UK HealthCare allows us to make this happen whenever we can. For moms who have to deliver by C-seciton, being able to still have that first special hour with their infants is wonderful.

Diana Frankenburger is the Childbirth Education Coordinator for UK HealthCare.

What you need to know about contractions

What you should know about contractions

As you near the end of your pregnancy, you may begin to experience occasional contractions.

Your uterus practices contractions before you actually begin labor, sometimes for four to six weeks before your due date. These practice contractions feel more like the baby is “balling up”. They generally don’t last long (30-60 seconds), and don’t increase in intensity or frequency. Often if you walk around, empty your bladder, drink water, or take a bath, these practice contractions — sometimes called “Braxton Hicks” — will stop.

You should begin timing your contractions so you can determine if they are getting longer, stronger, or closer together.

Timing your contractions

Contractions should be timed from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next. This is how far apart they are, or their frequency.Your nurse or physician will ask you for this information when you come to the Birthing Center Triage.

Contractions may be timed by using a watch with a second hand, or by using a free app available for your smart phone. Begin to time some of these practice contractions so you will be familiar with timing them when you begin laboring.

While the duration of your contraction, from beginning to end, is important too, we will be most interested in how far apart they occur. If you are having contractions every 10 minutes, or four to six in an hour, and you are less than 37 weeks gestation, you should come to the Birthing Center Triage to be evaluated for preterm labor.

Labor contractions

True labor contractions often include cramping, and may start in your back and move around to your front. The discomfort may even be felt in your groin and thighs. The methods you might use to make the practice contractions stop will not work for true labor contractions. These contractions become longer, stronger, and closer together. They may be accompanied by spots of blood or a discharge.

If you are over 37 weeks gestation and live in Lexington, we usually recommend that you wait until your contractions are 5 minutes apart for about an hour until you come to the hospital. This is so you can use comfort measures at home, and eat and drink what you want.

Once you are admitted to the hospital in labor, we don’t allow you to eat and drink, and give you ice chips and IV fluids. During your early labor at home, you will be able to use early labor comfort measures and eat and drink what you feel like. When your contractions are five minutes apart, you will be admitted, and will no longer be interested in eating and drinking.


Becoming Baby-Friendly

The announcement came late last week. After over two years of planning, policy changes, repeated audits, and a two day site visit by Baby-Friendly surveyors in January, we are finally a certified Baby-Friendly USA site!

UK HealthCare is a Baby-Friendly USA designated facility.We are one of two in Kentucky (St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Edgewood, Ky., is the only other site in the state).  We are the 268th facility to be designated in the United States, covering  46 states.

This journey began in 2012, with a core team of physicians, our director, the Birthing Center manager, lactation specialists both from our facility and from the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, hospital nurses, the childbirth educator, and a volunteer mother who had given birth at our facility. Over time our group grew to include more lactation specialists and nurses representing our clinics. Each of us had important roles in making the changes necessary for this designation.

Baby-Friendly requires that institutions follow the 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding:

1. Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
2. Train all health care staff in the skills necessary to implement this policy.
3. Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
4. Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth.
5. Show mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain lactation, even if they are separated from their infants.
6. Give infants no food or drink other than breast-milk, unless medically indicated.
7. Practice rooming in – allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
8. Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
9. Give no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants.
10. Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or birth center.

As you can see from this list, there are many areas to consider when implementing such a change in practice. We had already begun kangaroo care, also called skin-to-skin, immediately after vaginal deliveries.  We were also practicing Rooming In, or keeping the baby with their mother as much as possible. But we still took babies to the nursery for physicals and procedures such as weights and blood tests. Our pediatricians had to complete training and change how they evaluated infants; this process took several trials and continual reworking of our routine.

We also began trialing skin-to-skin in the operating room when feasible. This required careful planning, especially in order to keep a sterile field for surgery, and extra staff so that mom and baby each had a nurse.

Our hospital nursing staff had to complete 20 hours of extra training, which included time with a lactation specialist and training on hand expression. Nurses had to learn how to finger and syringe feed infants, and be especially vigilant in assisting moms not to give up and change to formula feeding when they encountered difficulties. It took our problem solving to a whole new level. This resulted in sending more of our night shift nurses for training to become lactation specialists so we had more assistance available for moms at night.

We had to create fliers to explain why we did not encourage the use of pacifiers in those first few weeks as breastfeeding is established, due to it confusing effect for infants.

Teaching our staff to help moms look for cues, not to the clock for when to feed baby was another hurdle. Learning to tell moms to feed eight to 12 times in 24 hours, not every three hours, was part of this step, and included infants who were formula fed.

Women must also be provided with information on support for breastfeeding after discharge, which we accomplished through our Mommy and Me Clinic, and support group information from the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department.

Another hurdle in our journey was providing all pregnant women with information on the benefits and management of breastfeeding. As childbirth education coordinator, I was responsible for creating the educational materials used, and providing training for the clinic staff. Eventually our clinic nurses completed the same training as our hospital staff, and this made an obvious improvement in their ability to answer questions and encourage breastfeeding.

Our OB physicians also had to complete training, as well as our residents. More importantly, they had to recognize the essential part they play in encouraging a woman to choose breastfeeding as the optimal feeding method. This encouragement can’t take place just once during pregnancy, but is an ongoing conversation, that includes information on the benefits of breastfeeding, the importance of breastfeeding exclusivity and the risk of supplements, and the importance of immediate skin to skin contact and rooming in. By addressing these areas at specific times during pregnancy, physicians and nurses are able to consistently provide the information to every patient.

The mom on our committee had breastfed successfully, but did not feel she had received much education prenatally to encourage her. Our first audits revealed that only 8 percent of our patients received education on the benefits and management of breastfeeding. We had nowhere to go but up.  But up we went, and by our site visit in January, more than 80 percent of our prenatal patients could verbalize the education they had received!

Not all of our changes have been met with enthusiasm. Some repeat moms, when our rooming in policy is explained, complain that they have several small children at home and had planned to send the baby to the nursery so they could rest after delivery.

Having had three children under the age of 4 myself, I fully understand this position. But this time is for bonding with this baby, and will be important in establishing mom’s milk supply. Napping when baby naps also helps mom rest, an advantage during hospitalization that won’t be possible at home.

I have had some questions about our changes, and would like to dispel some concerns:  We do still have formula at our hospital; you don’t have to bring your own. We will encourage you not to give your baby supplemental formula unless medically indicated, and will assist you in feeding your baby without an artificial nipple if possible. We will not throw away a pacifier you bring from home, or buy in our gift shop.

Recently I saw the mom from our committee, and she shared with me the great news that she is expecting again. She had been for her screening visit, and reported that the nurse who screened her asked if she planned to breastfeed, and explained the benefits to her, while giving her written materials. She then went for her new obstetrical visit, and the resident she saw also asked if she planned to breast feed, and provided education. She noticed the posters, flip charts, and available apps on breastfeeding she saw displayed throughout the clinic. She also remarked on a message I had written on the dry-erase board:“Your nurse is specially trained to answer your questions on breastfeeding”.  “It’s so different from my first pregnancy,” she said.

It is different. It is a culture change we are proud of, and worked hard for. We are committed to helping babies get the best possible start, while providing moms and families with all the support they need.

Soon another sign will go up at the hospital and clinics: We are Baby-Friendly USA! It has meant many changes, but in the end, team work by many made this possible, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.

UK HealthCare - safe sleep tips for your baby

Ensuring safe sleep for your baby

Choosing a sleeping arrangement for your baby is an important part of getting your home ready for a new member of the family. Check out our tips for making sure your baby is sleeping safely.

First bedroom

Keeping your baby in the room with you for those first few months makes breastfeeding easier. You should have a small crib, pack’n play or bassinet next to your bed so that your baby can be put down to sleep when you are finished feeding.

Finding the right crib

When you are choosing a crib for your baby, be sure that slats are no more than 2 3/8 inches apart, or the size of a soda can. If you can fit a soda can through the slats, they’re too wide! Babies can become trapped between slats, or objects in the crib, so keep the crib empty, and place it away from windows or blinds.

Comfortable environment

Babies are most comfortable dressed like you for sleep, and should not be overdressed or covered with heavy blankets. Swings, car seats and carriers should not be substitutes for your baby’s sleeping area, as they increase the risk of suffocation.

Co-sleeping can result in suffocation. Your baby needs to sleep in his own bed positioned on his back. His bed should be a firm surface free of pillows, toys, or bumper pads. Only a firm mattress pad and fitted sheet are needed. You can swaddle your baby so that his legs can still bend to keep him warm.


By putting your baby to sleep on his back, you dramatically reduce his risk of Sudden Unexplained Infant Death, which includes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS.

SIDS is the leading cause of death in babies, ages one month to one year. Most of these deaths occur between one and four months. Infant deaths from SIDS have been dramatically reduced (by 50 perent!) since increased public awareness about the importance of placing babies on their backs to sleep.

Smoking increases the risk of SIDS, so talk with your caregiver about quitting smoking during your pregnancy, and don’t allow anyone else to smoke around your baby.

Breastfeeding also helps prevent SIDS, so you are providing your baby even more protection by choosing to breastfeed.

Babies do enjoy tummy time or lying on their side when awake or being held, but always put them to sleep on their backs!

What you need to know about pacifiers

As we strive to become a certified Baby Friendly® Hospital, we want you and your baby to get off to the right start. We don’t recommend giving babies pacifiers or artificial nipples in the first month after they are born, in order to prevent confusion that may interfere with breastfeeding. Babies suck differently on pacifiers and need to become experts at breastfeeding before they try to master another skill.

If you want your baby to have a pacifier during your hospitalization, you may bring one from home or purchase one in our gift shop. We encourage you to wait until your breastfeeding is established to introduce pacifiers or artificial nipples. To learn more, contact our lactation specialists at 859-323-4880.

UK HealthCare OB-GYN offers tips for breastfeeding

Getting the proper latch

An important part of successful breastfeeding is getting the proper latch. Here’s how:

  • While holding your baby belly to belly, line him up nose to nipple and wait for him to open his mouth wide before attaching him.
  • The latch should be deep enough that your nipple reaches to his soft palette. This will keep you from experiencing pain while nursing.
  • Your baby’s chin should touch your breast first; his head will tilt back.
  • His lower lip will turn outward when he’s correctly attached.

Positions for breastfeeding

There are several positions you can use to feed your baby:

  • Laid Back: This is similar to the skin-to-skin position. Lay back and use pillows to support you. Place your baby face down between your breasts and allow him to move into position to attach. This is an easy first feeding position.
  • Cross-cradle: Place your baby on a pillow in your lap, so he is at breast level. Place him tummy-to-tummy with you and line his nose up with your nipple. Support his head with your hand at the base of his skull. Form a C with your thumb and forefinger around your breast but away from your nipple. Once your baby latches on you can release your breast and use this hand to help cradle your baby
  • Football hold: This is especially good if you have a cesarean section to keep pressure off your incision. Place your baby on a pillow at your side with his legs under your arm. Support his head and neck with your hand by sliding your hand under your baby’s back.
  • Side-lying: Lie on your side with pillows supporting you. Turn your baby towards you on his side facing your nipple. You may need to place your arm behind him for support. Line him up nose to nipple.

Tips on proper positioning and attachment are available in our Nursing Your Infant class. See the Childbirth Preparation brochure, or visit UK HealthCare’s OB-GYN’s website for more information.

You may also access The Newborn Channel at www.thenewbornchannelnow.com, and enter the UK HealthCare password: 02808, for videos to help get you ready to breastfeed. The Newborn Channel series, Breastfeeding Made Easy, is especially helpful in showing positions for breastfeeding and how to get a proper latch.

pregnant woman sleeping

Baby’s kicks keeping you up all night? Learn more about babies’ movement.

When you reach 22-24 weeks gestation, you should be able to feel your baby move consistently.

When you are up walking around during the day, your body sets up a motion not unlike a rocking chair. This keeps your baby rocked to sleep most of the day.

But at night, when you lie down and get ready to sleep, you stopped rocking so your baby wakes up and begins to kick! That’s why women feel the baby move so often at night. Remember, babies are used to this sleep pattern when you bring them home after delivery.

If you are ever concerned about the frequency of your baby’s movement, have something to drink and lie down on your side in a quiet place. Wait for the baby to wake up and move, and note the time when you feel movement. Count the movements until you reach 10 and then check the time again. Babies usually move 10 times in an hour — definitely 10 times in two hours. If your baby doesn’t move that often, you should come to the Birthing Center Triage for evaluation or contact your physician.