"When you are pregnant, it's more important than ever to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally," explained obstetrician/gynecologist Kristi Johnson, M.D. "You can boost your chances of having a problem-free pregnancy and a healthy baby by following a few simple guidelines."
Prenatal Health Care: "One of the main keys to protecting the health of you and your baby is to get regular prenatal care," continued Dr. Johnson. "You should schedule your first examination as soon as you think you might be pregnant."
If you're healthy and there are no complicating risk factors, most obstetricians will want to see you every 4 weeks until the 28th week of your pregnancy, then every 2 weeks until the 36th week, and then once a week until your delivery.
Watch what you eat: "Healthy eating plays a very important role in a healthy pregnancy," Dr. Johnson advised. "Choose foods from a variety of sources to make sure you get all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients you and your developing baby need. Even though you are eating for two, you only need about 300 extra calories per day."
Avoid the following foods which may be contaminated by bacteria:
-Raw fish, especially shellfish, and undercooked meat or poultry (i.e. deli meats)
-Foods made with raw or lightly cooked eggs (like homemade Caesar vinaigrette)
-Unpasteurized milk products, including soft cheeses such as Brie
-Unpasteurized juices, such as unpasteurized apple cider
In addition, be sure to drink plenty of water, since a pregnant woman's blood volume can increase about 30 percent and it is easy to become dehydrated.
Take prenatal vitamins: Taking a good pregnancy supplement will help ensure that you have the correct balance of vitamins and minerals to support you and your baby. "It's important to get enough folic acid before conception and during early pregnancy," Dr. Johnson continued. "Folic acid greatly reduces your baby's risk of developing neural tube birth defects, such as spina bifida. Ideally, you should start taking 400 micrograms of folic acid at least one month before becoming pregnant.
"Also, your iron requirement increases significantly during pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimesters. However avoid mega-doses of any vitamin, and don't take additional supplements or herbal preparations without your obstetrician's approval."
Exercise regularly: "A good exercise program can give you the strength and endurance you'll need to carry the extra weight you will gain during pregnancy and to handle the physical stress of labor," she suggested. "It may also help ease aches and pains and improve the circulation in your legs. Just remember not to push yourself too hard or let yourself get overheated or dehydrated. You'll also need to avoid hot tubs and saunas."
Get some rest: "Fatigue in the first and third trimesters is your body's way of telling you to slow down," Dr. Johnson advised. "If you can't take a nap in the middle of the day, try to take a break. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, stretching, deep breathing, and massage are all great ways to combat stress and get a better night's sleep."
Say no to alcohol and drugs: "Any alcohol you drink reaches your baby rapidly through your bloodstream, and your baby can end up with higher levels of blood alcohol than you have," Dr. Johnson stated. "Any drug you use gets into your baby's bloodstream as well."
"As little as one drink a day can increase the odds of having a miscarriage, stillbirth or a low-birth weight baby. It also increases your child's risk for problems with learning, speech, attention span and hyperactivity. Women who have more than two drinks a day are at greater risk for giving birth to a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome."
Stop smoking: Smoking increases the risk of miscarriage, growth problems, placental abruption and premature delivery. "If you're unable to quit on your own, ask your obstetrician for a referral to a smoking cessation program," she added. "Even if you're not a smoker, try to stay away from secondhand smoke."
Cut back on caffeine: Women should limit their caffeine consumption intake to less than 200 mg per day, an amount you could get from one 8-ounce cup of strong coffee. Also, check the caffeine content of other products you consume, like tea, soft drinks, "energy" drinks, chocolate, and ice cream; as well as over-the-counter drugs, such as headache, cold, and allergy remedies.
"Caffeine has no nutritive value and makes it harder for your body to absorb iron," Dr. Johnson stated. "It's also a stimulant, so it can make it even harder to get a good night's sleep, and may give you headaches and contribute to heartburn."
Eliminate environmental dangers: If you're routinely exposed to chemicals, heavy metals (like lead or mercury), certain biologic agents, or radiation, try to remove yourself as soon as possible. Keep in mind that some cleaning products, pesticides, solvents, and lead in drinking water from old pipes can also be harmful.
See your dentist: Brush, floss, and get regular dental care. Hormonal shifts during pregnancy can make you more susceptible to gum disease and cause the gums to react differently to the bacteria in plaque, resulting in swollen, bleeding or tender gums.
Take care of your emotional health: Many women feel like they're on an emotional roller coaster during their pregnancy. "If you've been feeling depressed for more than two weeks or if you're feeling particularly anxious, share this with your health care provider, so you can get a referral for professional help," Dr. Johnson concluded.
Kristi Johnson, M.D., is a board certified obstetrician/gynecologist affiliated with Salem Community Hospital's active medical staff. Her office is located at Salem Women's Care, 2094 East State Street, Suite B, in Salem, 330-332-1939.