Once you are pregnant, you must do the following 10 things to keep yourself and your developing baby safe and healthy.
01: Start Taking Folic Acid
Start or continue to take at least 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid by taking vitamin supplements every day to reduce your child’s risk of neural tube defects. In many developed countries, enriched grain products such as bread, cereal, pasta, and other grain-based foods are fortified with folic acid. A related form, called folate, occurs naturally in leafy, green vegetables and orange juice, but folate is not absorbed as well as folic acid. Also, it can be difficult to get all the folic acid you need from food alone. Most prenatal vitamins contain 400 micrograms of folic acid. If you have had a child with an NTD before, you should take 4 mg of folic acid before and during early pregnancy to reduce the risk for recurrence in a subsequent pregnancy.
02: Eat A Healthy And Safe Diet
Include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products in your diet to help ensure the developing fetus gets all the nutrients it needs. Make sure you also drink plenty of water.
Avoid certain foods such as raw fish, undercooked meat, deli meat, and unpasteurized cheeses (for example, certain types of feta, bleu cheese, and Mexican-style soft cheeses). Always check the label to make sure the cheese is pasteurized.
Some pregnant women are concerned about the amount of fish they can safely consume. Certain fish contain methylmercury, when certain bacteria cause a chemical change in metallic mercury. Methylmercury is found in foods that fish eat, and it remains in the fish’s body after it is eaten. Methylmercury in fish eaten by pregnant women can harm a fetus’s developing nervous system.
According to experts, pregnant women can eat up to 12 ounces a week of fish and shellfish that have low levels of methylmercury (salmon, canned light tuna, and shrimp). Albacore (“white”) tuna has more methylmercury than canned light tuna; pregnant women should consume 6 ounces or less in a week. Avoid fish with high levels of methylmercury (swordfish, king mackerel, and shark).
03: Have Regular Physical Activity
Most pregnant women can continue regular levels of physical activity throughout pregnancy. Regular physical activity can help you feel better, sleep better, and prepare your body for birth. After your baby is born, it can help get you back to your pre-pregnancy shape more quickly. Don’t start any exercise without clearance of your doctor. Talk to your doctor about the amount and type of physical activity that is right for you.
04: Quit Alcohol, Tobacco, And Illicit Drugs
Drinking alcohol, smoking, and taking drugs during pregnancy can increase your child’s risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and other problems.
FASDs are a group of harmful effects on the fetus as a result of the mother drinking alcohol during pregnancy. The effects range from mild to severe, and they include intellectual and developmental disabilities, behavior problems, abnormal facial features, and disorders of the heart, kidneys, bones, and hearing. FASDs last a lifetime although early medical intervention can help improve a child’s development. FASDs are completely preventable. If a woman does not drink alcohol while she is pregnant, her child will not have an FASD. Currently, research shows that there is no safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant.
Research studies show that smoking tobacco, smoking marijuana, exposure to second-hand smoke, and taking illicit drugs during pregnancy can also harm the fetus and affect infant health. One study showed that smoking tobacco or marijuana and using illegal drugs doubled or even tripled the risk of stillbirth, fetal death after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Likewise, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and exposure to second-hand smoke during pregnancy increases the risk of SIDS, the sudden, unexplained death of an infant younger than 1 year old. Research also shows that smoking marijuana during pregnancy can interfere with normal brain development in the fetus, possibly causing long-term problems.
05: Talk To Your Doctor About Medications
Talk to your doctor about over-the-counter, prescription medications, and herbal and vitamin supplements you are currently taking. Certain medications to treat acne and epilepsy and some dietary or herbal supplements can harm the fetus during pregnancy. Your doctor will verify and tell you what medication to continue, what to stop, and may prescribe alternative medications that are safe.
Taking prescription pain medications, specifically opioids, during pregnancy can pose serious risks to the fetus. Taking these medications during pregnancy doubles or even triples the risk for stillbirth. If taken regularly during pregnancy, the baby may go through withdrawal after birth, a situation called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Babies with NAS face a variety of symptoms and problems, some of them severe. The best way to protect your baby from these problems is to stop taking these medications during pregnancy.
06: Avoid Exposure To Harmful Substances
Exposure to radiation, pesticides, some metals, and certain chemicals during pregnancy can cause birth defects, premature birth, and miscarriage. If you’re not sure if something might be harmful to you or your fetus, avoid contact with it until you check with your doctor.
If you work in a job on a farm, a dry cleaner, a factory, a nail or hair salon, you might be around or come into contact with potentially harmful substances. Talk to your health care provider if you live or work in or near a toxic environment. You may need extra protection at work or a change in your job duties to stay safe.
The following are some of the substances known to be toxic to the developing fetus:
- Radiation (in the form of radio waves, heat, or light, or radioactive materials like dust, metals, or liquids that give off energy called radioactivity)
- Solvents (chemicals that dissolve other substances, such as alcohols, degreasers, and paint thinners)
07: Reduce Caffeine Intake
Some studies suggest that excessive caffeine consumption can increase the risk of miscarriage. Talk to your doctor about the amount of caffeine you get from coffee, tea, or soda. Your doctor might suggest a limit of 200 milligrams (the amount in about one 12-ounce cup of coffee) per day. Keep in mind, though, that some of the foods you eat, including chocolate, also contain caffeine and contribute to the total amount you consume each day.
08: Maintain A Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is important during pregnancy. Gaining too much or too little weight during pregnancy increases the risk of problems for both the mother and the infant. Following a healthy diet and getting regular physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight.
The amount of weight you should gain during pregnancy depends on your pre-pregnancy weight and body mass index (BMI), which is your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in meters (kg/m). The following guidelines are for women who are pregnant with one fetus. The recommendations are different if you are pregnant with more than one fetus (such as twins).
- Women who are underweight (BMI less than 18.5) should gain between 28 and 40 pounds.
- Women at a normal weight (BMI between 18.5 and 24.9) should gain between 25 and 35 pounds.
- Overweight women (BMI 25 to 29.9) should gain between 15 and 25 pounds.
- Obese women (BMI more than 30) should gain between 11 and 20 pounds.
Excessive weight gain during pregnancy increases the risk for gestational high blood pressure, cesarean section, and large-for-gestational-age infants. Talk to your doctor about the right amount of weight gain for you based on your pre-pregnancy weight.
09: Get Regular Dental Checkups
Your gums are more likely to become inflamed or infected because of hormonal changes and increased blood flow during pregnancy. Getting regular dental checkup will help deal with any problems.
10: Prevent Infections During Pregnancy
Certain infections can affect pregnancy and/or the developing baby. It is important to take steps to prevent such infections or get medical treatment before and during pregnancy.
Vaccinations can protect against many infections that can affect the mother’s health, the pregnancy, the fetus, and even her newborn child. Some vaccines need to be given before pregnancy, so it’s a good idea to review your vaccination history with your doctor as part of your preconception care.