Trying to get pregnant? Make sure you know the bottom line on baby-making—what you don't understand can affect your bub-to-be's health.
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“Start getting healthy even before you become pregnant,” advises Siobhan Dolan, M.D., M.P.H., medical adviser to the March of Dimes and professor of obstetrics and gynecology and women’s health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center in New York. (Already pregnant? Just do all these things as early as possible, and don’t worry.) On your must-do-first list: Begin taking a daily multivitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid, a B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida; quit smoking, drinking alcohol and/or using recreational drugs.
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Schedule a pre-conception checkup, too. Have your doctor review your medications for pregnancy safety; ask your doctor to test you for sexually transmitted infections; make sure your immunizations are up to date; and have any infections or health problems properly treated.
Practical and emotional support can be crucial in helping you stay healthy and avoid prenatal anxiety and depression. Your circle could include your partner, family members, friends and coworkers, a childbirth instructor or your doctor or midwife.
Continuous support during labor has been shown to lower a mother’s need for pain medication and her risk for interventions, including Cesarean sections, and to lead to a more satisfying delivery. It’s important to have a sympathetic caregiver, but also to seek the support of family and friends. According to a recent study published in Clinical Psychological Science, getting lots of emotional support from your family while you’re expecting helps prevent postpartum depression (PPD).
“Choose someone who respects you and sees birth as a healthy process and not a disease,” says Raymond De Vries, Ph.D., a member of the Center for Bioethics and the Social Sciences at the University of Michigan Medical School and author of A Pleasing Birth (Temple University Press).
Your best choice is an OB-GYN or midwife with excellent credentials who also respects your opinions and choices. If your pregnancy is considered high-risk because you’re expecting multiples, you’ve experienced previous pregnancy or delivery complications, or you’ve been diagnosed with certain medical conditions, including diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure, it’s important that your primary-care caregiver have a collaborative relationship with a specialist in maternal fetal medicine.
During pregnancy, seemingly mild symptoms may signal something serious; signs include dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, nausea and vomiting, trouble walking, pain or burning during urination, blurry vision, pronounced swelling or decreased fetal activity for more than 24 hours.
“About 1 in every 8 babies is born prematurely, so contact your care provider immediately if you have such symptoms as uterine cramping that gets stronger, gripping backache, leaking amniotic fluid and vaginal bleeding,” says Nancy Green, M.D., associate professor of clinical pediatrics, division of hematology, at Columbia University Center for Bioethics in New York.
Also get a flu shot and regular dental checkups (skip the X-rays, though); untreated gum infections have been linked to premature births. If you get sick, don’t take anything that hasn’t been OK’d by your doctor or midwife.
Pregnancy is the time to make every calorie count. Foods rich in essential nutrients such as protein, folate and iron will nourish you and your baby, and high-fiber foods can help prevent constipation. So can drinking plenty of water, which you also need to support your increased blood volume. Eating four or five mini-meals a day can help prevent heartburn and keep your blood-sugar levels steady and prevent binging.
Avoid foods that can be dangerous during pregnancy, including undercooked meats and cold cuts; raw seafood; raw or undercooked eggs; unpasteurized soft cheeses; and large fish, such as swordfish, which can contain high levels of mercury and other toxins. Also, limit your caffeine consumption to 200 milligrams daily, the equivalent of about 12 ounces of coffee.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pregnant women should exercise a minimum of 30 minutes a day, six or seven days a week, unless they have medical reasons not to do so. Regular stretching and exercise can relieve backaches, constipation and morning sickness. Plus, having a strong heart and lungs will help you get through your upcoming marathon: giving birth.