Pregnancy can be an exciting time in a woman’s life – a new addition to the family can evoke feelings of both happiness and nervousness. From pre-pregnancy planning to actual childbirth, you will experience many emotional and physical changes. By taking good care of yourself during pregnancy and following your doctor’s advice, you will enhance your chances of delivering a healthy and happy baby. If you are planning to become pregnant, be sure to schedule a preconception appointment with your doctor to have any questions answered and to obtain more information.
More than four million babies will be born in the U.S. this year alone. Now more than ever, mothers-to-be have access to current information, advanced technologies, and skilled medical personnel to help them plan for a healthy pregnancy and childbirth.
If you are planning to become pregnant, there are many things that you can do to help reduce risks to both you and your baby. Proper health before deciding to become pregnant is almost as important as maintaining a healthy body during pregnancy.
If you are already expecting, there are also many things you can do to help minimize pregnancy and delivery complications –- while also helping to provide the healthiest environment for the developing fetus, and ultimately to ensure the health of your newborn. By following a healthy lifestyle, including a well-balanced diet and regular exercise, avoiding certain harmful substances and potentially dangerous activities or situations, and by finding a qualified caregiver to manage your pregnancy, labor, and delivery, you will be taking the appropriate steps toward the delivery of a healthy baby.
Additionally, when you are choosing a hospital for maternity care, you have a lot to consider. Where your physician practices or which hospitals are covered by your insurance often limits your choice. Factors such as the hospital’s range of services, education programs, the facility and the hospital’s convenience to home may play a deciding role.
If you are planning to become pregnant, taking certain steps can help reduce risks to both you and your baby. Proper health before deciding to become pregnant is almost as important as maintaining a healthy body during pregnancy.
The first few weeks are crucial in a child's development. However, many women do not realize they are pregnant until several weeks after conception. Planning ahead and taking care of yourself before becoming pregnant is the best thing you can do for you and your baby.
One of the most important steps in helping you prepare for a healthy pregnancy is a pre-pregnancy examination (often called preconceptual care) performed by your physician before you become pregnant.
This examination may include any/all of the following:
family medical history - an assessment of the maternal and paternal medical history - to determine if any family member has had any medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and/or mental retardation.
genetic testing - an assessment of any possible genetic disorders - as several genetic disorders may be inherited, such as sickle cell anemia (a serious blood disorder which primarily occurs in African-Americans) or Tay-Sachs disease (a nerve breakdown disorder marked by progressive mental and physical retardation which primarily occurs in individuals of Eastern European Jewish origin). Some genetic disorders can be detected by blood tests before pregnancy.
personal medical history - an assessment of the woman's personal medical history to determine if there are any of the following:
medical conditions that may require special care during pregnancy - such as epilepsy, diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia, and/or allergies
vaccination status - an assessment of current vaccinations/inoculations to assess a woman's immunity to rubella (German measles), in particular, since contracting this disease during pregnancy can cause miscarriage or birth defects. If a woman is not immune, a vaccine may be given at least three months before conception to provide immunity.
infection screening - to determine if a woman has a sexually transmitted infection or urinary tract infection (or other infection) that could be harmful to the fetus and to the mother.
Other steps that can help reduce the risk of complications and help prepare for a healthy pregnancy and delivery include the following:
If you are a smoker, stop smoking now. Studies have shown that babies born to mothers who smoke tend to be lower in birthweight. In addition, exposure to secondhand smoke may adversely affect the fetus.
Eating a balanced diet before and during pregnancy is not only good for the mother's overall health, but essential for nourishing the fetus.
proper weight and exercise
It is important to exercise regularly and maintain a proper weight before and during pregnancy. Women who are overweight may experience medical problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Women who are underweight may have babies with low birthweight.
medical management (of preexisting conditions)
Take control of any current or preexisting medical problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
preventing birth defects
Take 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid each day, a nutrient found in some green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and some vitamin supplements. Folic acid can help reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord (also called neural tube defects).
Avoid exposure to alcohol and drugs during pregnancy. In addition, be sure to inform your physician of any medications (prescription and over-the-counter) you are currently taking - all may have adverse effects on the developing fetus.
exposure to harmful substances
Pregnant women should avoid exposure to toxic and chemical substances (i.e., lead and pesticides), and radiation (i.e., x-rays). Exposure to high levels of some types of radiation and some chemical and toxic substances may adversely affect the developing fetus.
Pregnant women should avoid the ingestion of undercooked meat and raw eggs. In addition, pregnant women should avoid all contact and exposure to cat feces and cat litter, which may contain a parasite called toxoplasma gondii that causes toxoplasmosis. Other sources of infection include insects (i.e., flies) that have been in contact with cat feces and should be avoided during pregnancy. Toxoplasmosis can cause a serious illness in, or death of, the fetus. A pregnant woman can reduce her risk of infection by avoiding all potential sources of the infection. A blood test before or during pregnancy can determine if a woman has been exposed to the toxoplasma gondii parasite.
Begin taking a prenatal vitamin daily, prescribed by your physician, to make certain that your body gets all the necessary nutrients and vitamins needed to nourish a healthy baby.
identifying domestic violence
Women who are abused before pregnancy may be at risk for increased abuse during pregnancy. Your physician can help you find community, social, and legal resources to help you deal with domestic violence.
What are the signs of pregnancy?
The signs of pregnancy vary from woman to woman. Usually the most obvious sign is the absence of menstruation (amenorrhea). However, some women continue to have bleeding even while pregnant. The following are the most common initial signs of pregnancy. However, each woman may experience the signs of pregnancy differently.
These may include:
sore and swollen breasts
nausea or vomiting (also called morning sickness)
certain food cravings or aversions
bloating of the abdomen
darkening of the skin around the nipples (also called the areola)
bluish-purple vaginal and cervical tissue, due to blood engorgement, which can be detected during a pelvic examination.
These early signs may not positively indicate pregnancy, but may actually signal another process occurring within the body. A pregnancy test can provide more accurate results.
What is a pregnancy test?
Pregnancy is confirmed with a pregnancy test. A pregnancy test can be performed on either urine or blood. Pregnancy tests detect the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (hCG), a hormone produced by the placenta about 10 days after fertilization. Levels of the hCG hormone approximately double every two days during the first 60 days of pregnancy. Pregnancy tests that are performed using the woman's blood are done by a physician and are usually performed to obtain a very early diagnosis of pregnancy or also to confirm an at-home pregnancy test. Blood tests are very accurate and can detect pregnancy by the second week after conception.
Women can conduct an at-home pregnancy test by testing a sample of urine about two weeks after conception, or about the time a period is due. Home pregnancy tests have become more accurate in the last decade. If the test is used correctly, most home pregnancy tests are 97 to 99% accurate. It is recommended that users repeat the test in a few days, whether the result is positive or negative.
Always consult your physician to confirm a positive at-home pregnancy test with a more reliable pregnancy test and physical examination. If your at-home pregnancy test results are negative, and you think you are pregnant, you should also consult your physician.