Did you know, according to The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50,000 women suffer from severe pregnancy complications?
Planning for a baby can be an exciting and happy time for couples. However, getting pregnant and maintaining a healthy pregnancy can come with its own set of worries.
Highlighted below are some recommended precautions pregnant women can take to avoid the risk of health problems related to pregnancy that can affect mother, baby, or both.
Preconception & Reproductive Counselling
Outlining a reproductive plan with your health care provider can help you and your partner understand personal goals about becoming pregnant. It is also an opportunity to improve lifestyle choices to live a healthier life, limiting risks during pregnancy through prevention and management.
A Healthy Lifestyle Reduces Chances of Gestational Conditions
Adopting a healthier lifestyle and diet can help you reduce your chances of getting Gestational Hypertension (high blood pressure) or Gestational Diabetes (high blood sugar). Both these conditions develop during pregnancy and can cause harm to you and your baby.
Some dietary and exercise recommendations to control your blood pressure and blood sugar, include:
- Light activities can be in the form of swimming, cycling, low weight training, and jogging. It is crucial NOT to overheat during exercise, so be sure to stay well hydrated. Consult your doctor about any physical activity you plan to do during pregnancy to ensure safety.
- Increasing your fiber intake by eating 10 grams or more can lower the risk of Gestational Diabetes by 26%. High fiber foods include cereals, fruits, and vegetables.
- Reduce high sugar consumption to prevent the risk of Gestational Diabetes.
- Limit red meat, processed meats, and animal fat intake and try substituting these with healthier options. For example, try eating more nuts or legumes and less meat.
Take A Folic Acid Supplement Before and During Pregnancy
A folic acid is a form of vitamin B, known as folate. It plays a vital role in maintaining and producing new cells. It also helps in a baby’s brain and spinal cord development.
Taking the recommended daily dose of 400 micrograms (mcg), before and during pregnancy, can help in preventing Neural Tube Defects (NTDs), which can occur early on. For example, Spina Bifida, which can develop during the early weeks of pregnancy, is when the baby’s spine and spinal cord do not form properly.
A daily dose of folic acid can also prevent Folate-Deficiency Anemia, which is common during pregnancy. Symptoms include tiredness, headaches, and pale skin due to the lack of folate in the blood.
Folic acid can be found in foods such as bread, cereal, pasta, dark leafy green vegetables, oranges and orange juice, nuts, poultry, whole grains, and beans.
Talk to Your Doctor About Pre-Existing Medical Conditions
Long-term or chronic illnesses do not mean you cannot promote a healthy pregnancy. However, it may require you to take extra care and planning.
It is essential to discuss any pre-existing conditions with your health care provider even before you start planning for a baby.
Pre-Existing Medical Conditions can include:
- Diabetes — High blood sugar
- Epilepsy — neurological disorder
- Asthma — respiratory condition
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome — intestinal discomfort
Your health care provider can help you understand the risks during pregnancy, how to control your symptoms and advise a treatment plan to lower any risks to both you and your baby.
Avoid Smoking, Drinking Alcohol and Taking Toxic Substances (including OTC Medication and Coffee)
It is crucial to understand that what you are putting into your body is also going into your baby’s body and has a significant impact on their development.
If you are trying to quit smoking, drinking, or drug addiction, then you can get the right support before planning for a baby, to help you. Discuss your concerns with your health care provider so they can advise you on support groups, medication, and recommend any other helpful tips.
Smoking, alcohol consumption, and taking drugs (cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, to name a few) can all lead to severe congenital disabilities and health problems:
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): unexplained infant death during sleep, also referred to as crib death.
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD): a range of conditions that can cause physical and mental damage to babies due to alcohol exposure
- Neural Tube Defects (NTDs): congenital disabilities to the fetus’s brain, spine, or spinal cord, which develop in the early stages of pregnancy.
Other harmful complications include poor growth development, behavioral problems, and respiratory failure.
Although caffeine is legal and there are conflicting conclusions about the effects, pregnant women should limit or stop their intake, completely. Caffeine can be found in coffee, teas, sodas, and even chocolate.
Consult your doctor before taking over-the-counter medication. Although some are safe during pregnancy, some can be harmful to you and your baby.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight and Diet
It is important to be physically healthy before trying for a baby. Obesity has been linked to many cases where women have struggled to conceive because they are overweight.
Being overweight can not only cause harm to your baby but can increase the risk of complications during pregnancy and delivery, such as:
- Gestational Diabetes
- Cesarean Delivery
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) found that obesity can increase the baby’s chances of developing a congenital heart defect (a heart condition usually present at birth) by 15%.
Weight Management can include:
- Eating moderately and often — smaller portions at regular intervals
- Drinking plenty of water
- Staying active with light exercise
- Tracking your weight (but remember some weight gain is normal)
- Keeping your cravings under control
Talk to your health care provider about a diet and fitness plan to help you maintain a healthy weight for conception and pregnancy.
Different infections can occur during pregnancy and can cause no serious harm. However, others can pass to the fetus, which can be harmful during and after pregnancy.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), also known as Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are infections contracted during sexual contact.
Common STDs can include:
- Chlamydia — a bacterial infection that can cause preterm labor, premature membrane rupture, and low birth weight. It can be passed from mother to baby during delivery, but if diagnosed early, it can be treated with antibiotics during pregnancy.
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) — a virus that can attack the immune system and can be transmitted to the fetus during pregnancy, vaginal delivery, or breast-feeding. If detected early, you can take specific measures to reduce the risk of transmission.
- Syphilis — a bacterial infection that can pass from mother to baby through the placenta. It has been linked to multiple congenital disabilities and health problems in newborns.
- Genital Herpes — can cause a life-threatening infection in babies called Herpes Encephalitis. It is passed to the baby through vaginal delivery and can cause some serious health problems.
Regular screening for STDs/STIs usually takes place in the early stages of pregnancy. It is common not to experience symptoms of STIs, so it is important to let your doctor know if you are sexually active.
You and your partner should both take extra care in testing for STDs to lower the risk of transmitting infections to your baby.
Prenatal care is essential to managing and preventing complications before and during pregnancy.
Focusing on a healthy lifestyle and visiting a health care provider for more advice and support can help you promote a healthy pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby.