The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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REALITY CHECK There’s some evidence that being on your feet all day or having a job that requires heavy lifting may raise your risk of preterm labor, but the research is inconsistent.
WHAT YOU CAN DO If you’re at increased risk for preterm labor, you will be advised to avoid heavy lifting and prolonged standing. Worried about either? Talk to your boss about switching to a job that allows you to sit more or take more frequent seated breaks.
REALITY CHECK Though it always makes the news when a woman delivers in a taxi or on the bathroom floor, in real life, it’s rare. In a study from England, 137 out of 31,140 babies were born before they arrived at a hospital over a five-year period—that’s less than a 1 percent chance. If it’s your first baby, you should have plenty of time: From the time your cervix is dilated 4 centimeters (when experts say you should head to the hospital) you still face an average of six hours for the first stage of labor (when your cervix dilates to 10 centimeters) plus another two hours of serious pushing, says Siobhan Dolan, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and women’s health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y. If it’s your second baby, the first stage of labor usually lasts two to 10 hours.
WHAT YOU CAN DO Most women don’t need to worry about this if they follow the guidelines above. If you had a very quick labor previously or you live far from a hospital, you should check in with your doctor or midwife sooner rather than later, Dolan says.
In the March of Dimes survey, fewer than half of the pregnant women said they were concerned about the following issues, all of which, experts say, pose serious potential risks.
1. GETTING AN INFECTION Infections can be more serious during pregnancy and lead to complications such as preterm birth. In 2009, 5 percent of pregnant women who reported having the H1N1 virus (the “swine flu”) died, and 22 percent were admitted into the intensive care unit. Even a common urinary tract infection can lead to a dangerous kidney infection and preterm birth when you’re pregnant, so see your doctor immediately if you have symptoms of infection, such as fever, inflammation or pain. “Things that you might sit on when you’re not pregnant should be addressed more quickly when you are,” says OB-GYN Siobhan Dolan, M.D., M.P.H.
2. GAINING TOO MUCH WEIGHT A three-state survey found that 41 percent of pregnant women are gaining more than the recommended amount of weight, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Doing so can put you at risk of pregnancy complications, prematurity, birth defects, retaining the weight postpartum and having an overweight child. Try to eat twice as healthy when you’re pregnant, not twice as much.
3. NOT EXERCISING ENOUGH Only 23 percent of pregnant women get the recommended 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise a day, according to a recent study. Lack of exercise can contribute to excessive weight gain, loss of strength and stamina just when you’re going to need them most, and pregnancy complica- tions. If you’re not exercising yet, start with leisurely short walks, then gradually increase your speed and walking time.
4. USING HOME CLEANING PRODUCTS Try to avoid using bleach and other strong chemicals or use them only in well-ventilated areas, says Ted Schettler, M.D., science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network and co-author of In Harm’s Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development. The same is true for home improvement projects like painting or refinishing. Find nontoxic alternatives whenever possible, and forgo air fresheners, pesticides and lawn chemicals entirely. For more ways to protect yourself and your developing baby, go to fitpregnancy.com/goinggreen.
5. DEVELOPING GESTATIONAL DIABETES About 6 to 8 percent of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, which can raise the risk of serious pregnancy complications, and the numbers are growing. Plus, new research is showing that even expectant moms with borderline gestational diabetes—elevated blood sugar levels that are below the current cutoff point—have an increased risk of complications like preeclampsia, preterm delivery, having a too-large baby and needing a C-section. Exercise regularly, watch your sugar intake and cut back if you’ve been diagnosed or told your blood sugar is elevated.