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Health Information For Parents
Now that you’re pregnant, taking care of yourself has never been more important. Here’s how to keep you and your baby as healthy as possible.
Key to protecting the health of your child is to get regular prenatal care. If you think you’re pregnant, call your health care provider to schedule your first prenatal appointment. Many health care providers, though, won’t schedule the first visit before 8 weeks of pregnancy, unless there is a problem.
At this first visit, your health care provider will probably do a pregnancy test, and will figure out how many weeks pregnant you are based on a physical examination and the date of your last period. He or she will also use this information to predict your delivery date (an ultrasound done sometime later in your pregnancy will help to verify that date).
If you’re healthy and there are no complicating risk factors, most health care providers will want to see you:
Throughout your pregnancy, your health care provider will check your weight and blood pressure while also checking the growth and development of your baby (by doing things like feeling your abdomen, listening for the fetal heartbeat starting during the second trimester, and measuring your belly). During the span of your pregnancy, you’ll also have prenatal tests, including blood, urine, and cervical tests, and probably at least one ultrasound.
When choosing a health care provider to counsel and treat you during your pregnancy, your options include:
Any of these is a good choice if you’re healthy and there’s no reason to anticipate complications with your pregnancy and delivery. However, nurse-midwives do need to have a doctor available for the delivery in case an unexpected problem arises or a cesarean section (C-section) is required.
Now that you’re eating for two (or more!), this is not the time to cut calories or go on a diet. In fact, it’s just the opposite — you need about 300 extra calories a day, especially later in your pregnancy when your baby grows quickly. If you’re very thin, very active, or carrying multiples, you’ll need even more. But if you’re overweight, your health care provider may advise you to consume fewer extra calories.
Healthy eating is always important, but especially when you’re pregnant. So, make sure your calories come from nutritious foods that will contribute to your baby’s growth and development.
Try to maintain a well-balanced diet that incorporates the dietary guidelines including:
By eating a healthy, balanced diet you’re more likely to get the nutrients you need. But you will need more of the essential nutrients (especially calcium, iron, and folic acid) than you did before you became pregnant. Your health care provider will prescribe prenatal vitamins to be sure both you and your growing baby are getting enough.
But taking prenatal vitamins doesn’t mean you can eat a diet that’s lacking in nutrients. It’s important to remember that you still need to eat well while pregnant. Prenatal vitamins are meant to supplement your diet, and aren’t meant to be your only source of much-needed nutrients.
Most women 19 and older — including those who are pregnant — don’t often get the daily 1,000 mg of calcium that’s recommended. Because your growing baby’s calcium demands are high, you should increase your calcium consumption to prevent a loss of calcium from your own bones. Your doctor will also likely prescribe prenatal vitamins for you, which may contain some extra calcium.
Good sources of calcium include:
Pregnant women need about 30 mg of iron every day. Why? Because iron is needed to make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells. Red blood cells circulate throughout the body to deliver oxygen to all its cells.
Without enough iron, the body can’t make enough red blood cells and the body’s tissues and organs won’t get the oxygen they need to function well. So it’s especially important for pregnant women to get enough iron in their daily diets — for themselves and their growing babies.
Although the nutrient can be found in various kinds of foods, iron from meat sources is more easily absorbed by the body than iron found in plant foods. Iron-rich foods include:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women of childbearing age — and especially those who are planning a pregnancy — get about 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid supplements every day. That can be from a multivitamin or folic acid supplement in addition to the folic acid found in food.
So, why is folic acid so important? Studies have shown that taking folic acid supplements 1 month prior to and throughout the first 3 months of pregnancy decrease the risk of neural tube defects.
The neural tube — formed during the first several weeks of the pregnancy, possibly before a woman even knows she’s pregnant — goes on to become the baby’s developing brain and spinal cord. When the neural tube doesn’t form properly, the result is a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.
Again, your health care provider can prescribe a prenatal vitamin that contains the right amount of folic acid. Some pregnancy health care providers even recommend taking an extra folic acid supplement, especially if a woman has previously had a child with a neural tube defect.
If you’re buying an over-the-counter supplement, remember that most multivitamins contain folic acid, but not all of them have enough to meet the nutritional needs of pregnant women. So, be sure to check labels carefully before choosing one and check with your health care provider.
It’s important to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, during pregnancy. A woman’s blood volume increases dramatically during pregnancy, and drinking enough water each day can help prevent common problems such as dehydration and constipation.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes (that’s 2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week if you’re not already highly active or doing vigorous-intensity activity.
If you are very active or did intense aerobic activities before becoming pregnant, you may be able to keep up your workouts, as long as your doctor says it’s safe. Before beginning — or continuing — any exercise routine, talk to your doctor.
Exercising during pregnancy has been shown to be very beneficial. Regular exercise can help:
Low-impact, moderate-intensity exercise activities (such as walking and swimming) are great choices. You also can try yoga or Pilates classes, videos, or exercise apps that are tailored for pregnancy. These are low-impact and they work on strength, flexibility, and relaxation.
But you should limit high-impact aerobics and avoid sports and activities that pose a risk of falling or abdominal injury. These include contact sports, downhill skiing, scuba diving, and horseback riding.
It’s also important to be aware of how your body changes. During pregnancy, your body makes a hormone known as relaxin. It’s believed to help prepare the pubic area and the cervix for the birth. The relaxin loosens the ligaments in your body, making you less stable and more prone to injury.
So, it’s easy to overstretch or strain yourself, especially the joints in your pelvis, lower back, and knees. Also, your center of gravity shifts as your pregnancy progresses, so you may feel off-balance and at risk of falling. Keep these in mind when you choose an activity and don’t overdo it.
Whatever type of exercise you choose, make sure to take lots of breaks and drink plenty of fluids. Slow down or stop if you get short of breath or feel uncomfortable. If you have any questions about doing a sport or activity during your pregnancy, talk to your health care provider.
It’s important to get enough sleep during your pregnancy. You’ll probably feel more tired than usual. And as your baby gets bigger, it will be harder to find a comfortable position when you’re trying to sleep.
Lying on your side with your knees bent is likely to be the most comfortable position as your pregnancy progresses. It also makes your heart’s job easier because it keeps the baby’s weight from putting pressure on the large blood vessels that carry blood to and from your heart and your feet and legs. Lying on your side can also help prevent or reduce varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and swelling in your legs.
Some doctors specifically recommend that pregnant women sleep on the left side. Because one of those big blood vessels is on the right side of your abdomen, lying on your left side helps keep the uterus off of it. Lying on your left side helps blood flow to the placenta and, therefore, your baby.
Ask what your health care provider recommends. In most cases, lying on either side should do the trick and help take some pressure off your back. For a more comfortable resting position either way, prop pillows between your legs, behind your back, and underneath your belly.
When you’re pregnant, what you don’t put into your body (or expose your body to) is almost as important as what you do. Here are some things to avoid:
Although it may seem harmless to have a glass of wine at dinner or a mug of beer out with friends, no one has determined what’s a “safe amount” of alcohol to consume during pregnancy. One of the most common known causes of mental and physical birth defects, alcohol can cause severe abnormalities in a developing fetus.
Alcohol is easily passed along to the baby, who is less equipped to eliminate alcohol than the mother. That means an unborn baby tends to develop a high concentration of alcohol, which stays in the baby’s system for longer periods than it would in the mother’s. And moderate alcohol intake, as well as periodic binge drinking, can damage a baby’s developing nervous system.
If you had a drink or two before you even knew you were pregnant (as many women do), don’t worry too much about it. But your best bet is to not drink any alcohol at all for the rest of your pregnancy.
Pregnant women who use drugs may be placing their unborn babies at risk for premature birth, poor growth, birth defects, and behavior and learning problems. And their babies could also be born addicted to those drugs themselves.
If you’re pregnant and using drugs, a health clinic such as Planned Parenthood can recommend health care providers, at little or no cost, who can help you quit your habit and have a healthier pregnancy.
If you’ve used any drugs at any time during your pregnancy, it’s important to inform your health care provider. Even if you’ve quit, your unborn child could still be at risk for health problems.
Pregnant women who smoke pass nicotine and carbon monoxide to their growing babies. The risks of this include:
If you smoke, having a baby might be the motivation you need to quit. Talk to your health care provider about options for kicking the habit.
High caffeine consumption has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage, so it’s probably wise to limit or even avoid caffeine altogether if you can.
If you’re having a hard time cutting out coffee cold turkey, here’s how you can start:
And remember that caffeine is not limited to coffee. Many teas, colas, and other soft drinks contain caffeine. Try switching to decaffeinated products (which may still have some caffeine, but in much smaller amounts) or caffeine-free alternatives.
If you’re wondering whether chocolate, which also contains caffeine, is a concern, the good news is that you can have it in moderation. Whereas the average chocolate bar has anywhere from 5 to 30 milligrams of caffeine, there’s 95 to 135 milligrams in a cup of brewed coffee. So, small amounts of chocolate are fine.
Although you need to eat plenty of healthy foods during pregnancy, you also need to avoid food-borne illnesses, such as listeriosis and toxoplasmosis, which can be life-threatening to an unborn baby and may cause birth defects or miscarriage.
Foods you’ll want to steer clear of include:
Also, although fish and shellfish can be an extremely healthy part of your pregnancy diet (they contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and are high in protein and low in saturated fat), you should avoid eating:
These types of fish may contain high levels of mercury, which can cause damage to the developing brain of a fetus. When you choose seafood, limit the total amount to about 12 ounces per week — that’s about two meals. Also, if you like canned tuna, pay attention to the type in the can. Canned light tuna generally contains smaller fish and can be eaten twice a week. But albacore/white tuna contains larger fish and should only be eaten once per week. Check any local advisories before eating recreationally caught fish.
Pregnancy is the prime time to get out of cleaning kitty’s litter box. Why? Because toxoplasmosis can be spread through soiled cat litter boxes and can cause serious problems, including prematurity, poor growth, and severe eye and brain damage. A pregnant woman who becomes infected often has no symptoms but can still pass the infection on to her developing baby.
Even common over-the-counter medicines that are generally safe may be considered off-limits during pregnancy because of their potential effects on the baby. And some prescription medicines may also cause harm to the developing fetus.
To make sure you don’t take anything that could be harmful to your baby:
If you were prescribed a medicine before you became pregnant for an illness, disease, or condition you still have, talk with your health care provider, who can help you weigh potential benefits and risks of continuing your prescription.
If you become sick (e.g., with a cold) or have symptoms that are causing you discomfort or pain (like a headache or backache), talk to your health care provider about medicines you can take and alternative ways to help you feel better without medicine.
From the first week of your pregnancy to the fortieth, it’s important to take care of yourself so you can take care of your baby. Even though you have to take some precautions and be ever-aware of how what you what you do — and don’t do — may affect your baby, many women say they’ve never felt healthier than during pregnancy.
To eat well during pregnancy, your extra calories should come from nutritious foods that contribute to your baby’s growth and development.
One of the most important things you can do to help prevent serious birth defects in your baby is to get enough folic acid every day – especially before conception and during early pregnancy.
Genetic counselors work with people who are either planning to have a baby or are pregnant to determine whether they carry the genes for certain inherited disorders. Find out more.
Learn which nutrients you need while pregnant or breastfeeding, and easy ways to add them to your diet.
Advice and information for expectant and new parents.
Moms-to-be have a lot of questions about what’s safe during pregnancy. Keep your sanity by knowing what you can – and can’t – do before your baby arrives.
The sooner in pregnancy good careÂ begins, the better for theÂ health of both moms and their babies. Here’s what to expect.
Where you choose to give birth is an important decision. Is a hospital or a birth center right for you? Knowing the facts can help you make your decision.
Here are 10 common surprises that can come with pregnancy.
The reality of labor and birth may seem extremely far off – but now’s the time to start planning for your baby by creating a birth plan that details your wishes.
Whether you feel confused, worried, scared, or excited, you’ll want to know how your life will change, what you can do to have a healthy baby.
Like many parents-to-be, you might have questions about the safety of sex and what’s “normal.” That can vary widely, but you can be sure that your sex life will change during pregnancy.
It’s best for babies not to be born before they’re due. Learn what you can do to prevent early labor.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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