By Tamara Slinkard, MD
Published in Healthy Viewpoints
Having a healthy pregnancy improves your chances of having a healthy baby. Many women start making changes in their lifestyle once they find out they are pregnant. However, having a healthy pregnancy begins even before you get pregnant. Here are some topics you should discuss with your doctor if you are planning pregnancy in the near future.
Take a Prenatal Vitamin
Your doctor will probably recommend starting a prenatal vitamin when you are actively trying to get pregnant. The first 10 to 12 weeks of a pregnancy are when most of the baby’s organs develop. Many vitamins and minerals are needed for that development. Folic acid is one of the vitamins especially important for the development of the baby’s spine. You can get this through green leafy vegetables and vitamin-fortified cereals, however, there is a higher amount in prenatal vitamins. Most of the baby’s spine development is complete by the sixth week of pregnancy (shortly after a woman finds out she is pregnant) so it is important to get the extra folic acid prior to pregnancy.
In addition to taking a prenatal vitamin, it is important to eat right. It is generally recommended to follow the food pyramid and avoid or limit foods and beverages with high calories and low nutritional value (i.e. regular soda, chips, candy and sweets).
Maintain a Healthy Weight
It is important to maintain or achieve an ideal body weight prior to becoming pregnant. Talk to your doctor about what your goal weight is and how to reach it. Being overweight increases the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy. It also increases the chance of having a large baby and needing a c-section. Being underweight increases the risk of having a very small baby.
Avoid Drugs, Alcohol & Tobacco
Smoking increases the risk for very small babies, as well as miscarriages, high blood pressure in the mother, preterm labor and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in the baby, just to name a few things. Regular alcohol use increases the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome ( babies have some abnormal facial features, slowed growth and developmental problems), birth defects and mental retardation. If you smoke, drink alcohol regularly or use other drugs, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.
Discuss Safety of Medications
If you have a chronic medical problem for which you take medication (i.e. diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, depression, seizures, etc.) talk with your doctor about their safety. All medicines have a safety rating and some medications can cause birth defects. If you need to take a medication, your doctor can help you find one with a low risk during pregnancy. Also, remember to ask your doctor about the safety of over-the-counter and herbal medicines.
Some illnesses you may encounter during pregnancy could cause birth defects. Rubella (German measles) and chickenpox are two such illnesses. If you are uncertain if you’ve had the disease or been immunized, your doctor may suggest a blood test to check for immunity. If you are not immune, you may need a shot. Often you need to avoid pregnancy for a certain amount of time after these vaccinations as they contain live virus that could cause birth defects in the baby. If you will be pregnant during influenza season (November through March), it is a good idea to get the flu shot.
There are many things you can do to have a healthy pregnancy and baby, but it begins prior to getting pregnant. If you are planning to become pregnant, make an appointment with your doctor to determine how you can reduce the risks to you and your baby during your pregnancy.