Pregnant women are notorious worriers. They fret over prenatal tests, maternity leave, baby names, labor, sleeping arrangements for their new arrival, child care, even food cravings. But generally their biggest worry is whether they’ll have a healthy baby. Not to worry. The odds are sky-high that when your child is born, she’ll be the picture of good health. But you can push those odds even higher by taking good care of yourself before and during pregnancy.
Eating right and exercising are two of the most important things you can do—so important, in fact, that we’ve devoted two other stories in this section to prenatal nutrition and fitness. But there are other crucial areas, too. If you follow these 10 healthy-pregnancy guidelines, you can worry less about your baby’s health and focus more on enjoying your nine months of waiting.
10 Ways to Safeguard Your Baby
1. Have a checkup before conceiving: During a preconception exam, your doctor will check for diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, vaginal infections, anemia, genital-tract abnormalities and other conditions that might sabotage a healthy pregnancy. Any health problems ideally should be under control before you become pregnant, says Siobhan Dolan, M.D., assistant medical director of the March of Dimes.
2. See your dentist, too: Untreated periodontal disease is linked to a higher risk of premature delivery, according to Charles J. Lockwood, M.D., chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut. Premature birth is the leading cause of death among newborns, and preemies are more likely than full-term babies to suffer from lifelong health problems such as mental retardation, blindness, hearing loss, chronic lung disease and cerebral palsy.
3. Avoid prolonged standing: When you stand, your uterus rests on a major blood vessel. Prolonged pressure can obstruct the flow of blood—and, therefore, oxygen—to both you and the baby, says Gerard Nahum, M.D., an associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C. If you must stand a lot, take frequent sitting or walking breaks (particularly in your third trimester) or shift your weight frequently from leg to leg.
4. Don’t get overheated: In the first trimester, a sustained body temperature of 102.5° F or higher may increase the risk of certain birth defects of the brain and spine, the March of Dimes reports. To be safe, stay out of very hot baths, hot tubs, whirlpool baths and saunas, and call your doctor if you have a fever of 100.4° F or higher.
5. Avoid environmental hazards: These include radiation (such as nonessential X-rays), lead (have your water checked and postpone renovations if you live in a pre-1978 home), cat feces (they can transmit a dangerous parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis) and other potential hazards. While most cleansers, latex paint and other household chemicals have not been shown to cause birth defects, Dolan advises avoiding them altogether in the first trimester. Later, wear protective gloves and have proper ventilation when handling these products. (For more info, visit www. marchofdimes.com.)
6. Check all medications: Don’t take any over-the-counter medicines, herbal remedies or supplements without consulting your doctor. And be sure to tell your doctor which prescription drugs you take; some can harm a fetus.
7. Avoid kid germs: Chickenpox, cytomegalovirus, Fifth disease and group B streptococcus are fairly common infections that in most cases don’t do much damage to the people—mainly children—who contract them. But exposure during pregnancy could endanger a fetus. When you’re around children or any sick people, wash your hands often, avoid touching contaminated items such as diapers and tissues, and don’t share eating utensils.
8. Clean up your lifestyle: Cigarettes, alcohol and recreational drugs can stunt fetal growth; reduce brain size; and contribute to mental retardation, facial deformities, developmental delays, placental problems, miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth and other problems. If you need help avoiding high-risk behaviors, ask your doctor for a referral to a cessation program.
9. Don’t try to be Superwoman: Even if you get as much sleep as you did before you became pregnant, you may feel more tired. That’s because women sleep less soundly when they’re pregnant, says Mary Herlihy, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. Schedule daily naps, take a sick day or skip a social engagement and get some extra rest instead.
10. Relax! Overwhelming stress may raise your chances of giving birth prematurely, Lockwood says. Cut back on work, sign up for yoga or a stress-management class, do your favorite exercise or make love (sex is perfectly safe if you don’t have unexplained bleeding, placenta previa or signs of preterm labor). Soon you’ll be busy with a newborn, so for now, just enjoy being pregnant.