Help Ensure a Healthy Pregnancy and Baby
By Gregory W. Siewny, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Atrium Medical Center.
Q. What can a woman do to help ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby?
A. Pregnancy can be one of the most enjoyable experiences of a woman’s life if she partners with her doctor to make smart choices for herself and her growing baby.
Prepare yourself for pregnancy by taking a multivitamin that contains folic acid, proven to reduce birth defects. Do all you can to achieve your best health with good nutrition, and make sure that any medical conditions are under control.
As soon as you discover you’re pregnant, schedule a “confirmation of pregnancy” appointment with your doctor. This new visit very early in pregnancy aims to ensure a healthier start for mothers and babies. Your doctor will help you manage any potential risk factors for miscarriage, such as medications. You’ll return about a month later for your first full obstetrics appointment, including pelvic ultrasound and blood work, at around 12 weeks. Today these non-invasive tests can detect genetic diseases much earlier than in the past.
Everyone is concerned about weight gain during pregnancy. Although the average goal is 28 pounds, what’s right for you will depend on your weight before pregnancy and your family’s tendency. Pregnant women have increased thirst and hunger. Don’t go on a diet to lose or gain weight.
What’s critical is choosing healthy foods with decreased fats, watching your calorie intake and drinking plenty of water. It takes a lot of water to make a healthy baby and prevent urinary tract infections. Try to limit juice to one glass a day or less. Treat sodas and sweets as dessert — they’re OK once in a while, but not on a regular basis. Diet soft drinks are safe and help reduce overall calorie intake. Drink caffeine only in moderation. Limit seafood to two helpings a week of shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock or catfish to minimize exposure to mercury that accumulates in other types of fish.
Sensible eating can help ensure your baby’s weight is healthy at delivery. Large babies at risk of health problems may result from overeating, Type I/Type II diabetes or gestational diabetes that develops during pregnancy. You’ll be tested for gestational diabetes because most mothers have no visible symptoms. The treatment usually is a careful diet that helps to regulate blood sugar.
Light exercise is good for all mothers-to-be. If you exercised before pregnancy, continue your pre-pregnancy routine. Don’t take up new, strenuous exercises and avoid anything that jars the body. When exercising in the heat of summer, be sure to stay well hydrated by drinking water and other beverages.
Don’t drink alcohol at all during pregnancy. Although doctors used to think that alcohol in moderation was acceptable, now we know that even minimal use can damage babies.
Smoking also harms babies in the womb. If you smoke, don’t decrease cigarette use – stop it altogether. Smoking causes babies to be small for their gestational age and harms your baby’s tissue. Quitting smoking does not cause seizures in the womb or withdrawal symptoms in your baby. If you stop smoking, your baby will be smarter and healthier. Your doctor will help you quit.
Traveling and flying during pregnancy is generally safe. Be sure to stay hydrated. To minimize the risk of blood clots, get up and move around the plane when the “fasten seatbelt” sign is off, pump your legs while you’re seated and stretch. In cars and planes, always wear your seatbelt. It’s OK to position it low on your abdomen.
After delivery, breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do for your baby’s health. Your baby will be sick less often, you’ll lose weight more quickly, you’ll save money on formula and you and your baby will form a strong bond.
Your best questions about your pregnancy will occur to you at home. Write them down and bring them to your doctor for discussion. Only three to four percent of pregnancies have problems, and a close relationship with your doctor can minimize that risk. Because everyone’s health is different, what’s right for someone else’s pregnancy care may not apply to you. No one can promise you a 100% healthy baby, but with your doctor’s help, you can make the very best baby possible.
This information is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace guidance from your physician on your specific health needs. Please talk to your physician for advice in all matters related to your health.