August 18, 2008

Take Steps to Ensure Prenatal Health of Mom, Child

A woman who is planning a pregnancy must think about many factors that can affect her health and her baby.

Do things that increase the chances of a beautiful healthy baby.

Take a daily prenatal vitamin with folic acid (usually available in quantities from 500 to 1,000 mcg).

Avoid harmful chemicals, like alcohol and tobacco.

Don't consume too many or too few calories.

Regular prenatal care is needed. In a prenatal visit, a medical professional will check for high blood sugar and high blood pressure. The doctor or nurse will check to see if the mom's weight gain is normal.

A prompt checkup is needed if a pregnant woman suddenly has unusual health problems. These problems can include swelling, pain, bleeding, frequent contractions, cramping, an injury, or other serious problems.

A mother's poor health habits can lead to pregnancy problems. A mother's health problems can lead to a preterm baby or birth defects. A woman who smokes is more likely to have a low birth- weight baby.

Poor health habits can also lead to new health problems for the mother. For example, many mothers gain more weight than needed during pregnancy, and retain the weight after delivery.

After about 20 weeks of pregnancy, some women start having high blood pressure, kidney problems and protein in their urine - a condition known as preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a serious problem that can hurt the baby and the mother's kidneys, liver and brain. This condition is a leading cause of maternal death.

Women who space out pregnancies (at least two years apart) often have healthier babies than women who do not. Women who have babies too close to together may be more likely to have pre-term low birth- weight babies.

The number of women who are giving birth after the age of 40 has increased substantially. Older mothers may have a higher risk for problems with pregnancy, labor and delivery. They may be more likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure, or thyroid problems. These problems can usually be managed with proper medical care.

Those who have had fertility treatments may be more likely to have twins or triplets who are too small at delivery.

Blood tests are available to screen for some genetic disorders. Amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS) may also be offered to older mothers.

What you should do

Be sure that you are as healthy as possible before becoming pregnant. Also check if your vaccines are up to date.

Develop a plan to manage any existing health problems that can complicate a pregnancy. Avoid an unplanned pregnancy. Get tested if you are concerned about genetic defects that run in your family.

Allow enough time between pregnancies to protect your health and to avoid a pre-term baby.

Get early and regular prenatal care. Get help quickly if you are having problems during your pregnancy.

Take a multivitamin or prenatal daily vitamin fortified with folic acid. Many doctors now recommend 1 mg (1,000 mcg) of folic acid.

Make sure the fetus gets the right nutrition for proper growth. Eat a healthy diet.

Avoid all smoke, including second-hand smoke.

Avoid caffeine, alcohol and high-sugar drinks.

Don't take drugs not prescribed by your doctor.

Don't be tempted to use a lot of chemicals fixing up the house and a nursery before the baby arrives. Avoid exposure to paint, paint removers, insecticides, or other chemicals at home or work.

Stay away from sick people with infectious diseases.

Drink extra fluids. Water is best.

Stay active. Exercise can help control your weight, give you energy, reduce stress, and help your muscle tone.

Give yourself enough rest. Sleeping on the left side is often helpful for pregnant women.

For more information

Go to h for more information about health before pregnancy and prenatal care.

Family Health .Take Charge! is provided by the Healthy Memphis Common Table: This article supports the care and advice of your doctor. Talk to your care provider about any health condition or before starting new treatments.


Family Health Take Charge

Talk to the expert

We're having an online conversation on our Healthy Memphis blog with Pam Sere, maternity care coordinator at Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women. Sere will answer questions about health before pregnancy and prenatal care. Go to to submit a question or comment - or to just follow the discussion.


(Chart) For most mothers prenatal care begins in the first three months. (For complete chart, see microfilm)

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