Prenatal Health Care
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:
- every 4 weeks until the 28th week of pregnancy
- then every 2 weeks until 36 weeks
- then once a week until delivery
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:
- family practitioners: doctors who provide a range of services for patients of all ages — in some cases, this includes obstetrical care
- obstetricians/gynecologists (also known as OB/GYNs): doctors who specialize in pregnancy and childbirth, as well as women’s health care
- certified nurse-midwives: advanced practice nurses specializing in women’s health care needs, including prenatal care, labor and delivery, and postpartum care for uncomplicated pregnancies. There are also other kinds of midwives, but you should look for one with formal training who’s been certified in the field.
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.
Ways to stay healthy
Get movingDaily exercise or staying active in other ways can help you stay healthy during pregnancy. Check with your doctor to find out how much physical activity is right for you.
Don’t smoke.Smoking is unhealthy for you and your unborn child. It increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), premature birth, miscarriage and other poor outcomes.
Don’t drink alcohol.
Don’t drink alcohol before and during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of having a baby with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). FASD can cause abnormal facial features, severe learning disabilities and behavioral issues.
Alcohol can impact a baby’s health in the earliest stages of pregnancy, before a woman may know she is pregnant. Therefore, women who may become pregnant also should not drink alcohol.
Avoid certain foods.
There are certain foods that women should avoid eating while pregnant. Don’t eat:
- Raw or rare meats
- Liver, sushi, raw eggs (also in mayonnaise)
- Soft cheeses (feta, brie)
- Unpasteurized milk
Raw and unpasteurized animal products can cause food poisoning. Some fish, even when cooked, can be harmful to a growing baby because they’re high in mercury.
Go to your prenatal care checkups.Women should get regular prenatal care from a health care provider. Moms who don’t get regular prenatal care are much more likely to have a baby with low birth weight or other complications. If available, consider group prenatal care.
Stay hydrated.A pregnant woman’s body needs more water than it did before pregnancy. Aim for eight or more cups each day.
Take a daily prenatal vitamin.Taking a daily prenatal multivitamin can help ensure you get the right amount of the key nutrients you and your baby need during pregnancy. These include folic acid, iron and calcium.
Eat healthy foods.Eating healthy foods is especially important for pregnant women. Your baby needs nutrients to grow healthy and strong in the womb. Eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, calcium-rich foods and foods low in saturated fat.
Get a flu shot.The flu can make a pregnant woman very sick and increase risks of complications for your baby. The flu shot can protect you from serious illness and help protect your baby after birth, too. Ask your doctor about getting a flu shot.
MIMI (Multi ion mask insert)
- Can be worn with any facemask and provides additional heavy-duty protection.
- Adult & Youth Sizes Available
Get plenty of sleep.Ample sleep (7 to 9 hours) is important for you and your baby. Try to sleep on your left side to improve blood flow.
Reduce stress.Reducing stress is crucial for improving birth outcomes. Pregnant women should avoid, as much as they can, stressful situations. Recruit your loved ones to help you manage stress in your life.
Plan the right time to get pregnant.
“If you are choosing to become pregnant at a time when you know that you’re at your healthiest, that increases your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy birth,” says Dr. Meadows.
This not only means that women should make sure that they are healthy before they become pregnant, but they also should consider their age before getting pregnant. Mothers who have children early in life (earlier than 16-years-old), or late in life (older than 40) are at greater risk for having a premature birth. Also, women who become pregnant again too soon (less than 18 months in between births) are even more likely to have a premature baby.
Nutrition and Supplements
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:
- lean meats
- whole-grain breads
- low-fat dairy products
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.
Some Things to AvoidWhen 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:
- low birth weight
- sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- asthma and other respiratory problems in the child
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:
- Cut your consumption down to one or two cups a day.
- Gradually reduce the amount of caffeine you get by combining decaffeinated coffee with regular coffee.
- Eventually try to cut out the regular coffee altogether.
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.