Planning a Healthy Pregnancy
BY THE PEOPLE’S CLINIC
Bringing a new life into the world can be one of the most exciting things a family can experience, but it is important to plan for your pregnancy and stay healthy during your pregnancy so you and your baby are as healthy as possible. North Carolina continues to have an infant mortality rate (the number of infants that die before their 1st birthday) that far exceeds the national average, and African American women in NC are more than twice as likely to have a baby die before their 1st birthday. As a result, it continues to be essential to educate our communities on how to have healthy pregnancies, to increase the chances of having a healthy baby.
There are several simple things you can do before conceiving that will improve your chances of having a healthier baby. These things are part of preconception care. Many critical stages of fetal development occur even before you know you are pregnant, so it is important to make healthy changes early.
1. Take Folic Acid every day. All women who are able to become pregnant should take a multivitamin every day. The vitamin should include 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid, a kind of B vitamin. Folic Acid can prevent neural tube defects—that is, birth defects that affect brain and spinal cord development.
2. Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Simple behavioral changes can reduce the risk of ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), low birth weight, birth defects, and preterm labor. Some things you can do include eating a healthy, balanced diet; getting regular exercise of at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week; stopping smoking/avoiding secondhand smoke; NOT drinking alcohol or abusing drugs; reducing your stress level; and avoiding hazardous chemicals and high temperatures (like hot tubs or saunas).
3. Get a pre-pregnancy health checkup. This checkup should occur before you get pregnant and should include a dental checkup, because oral health is an important contributor to overall health. Make sure you are up to date with all your immunizations; be screened for any sexually transmitted infections (STIs); plan for treating preexisting medical conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.); and review your personal and family medical history. If you use birth control, discuss stopping it with your doctor, as some birth control methods may cause birth defects if pregnancy occurs while the medication is still in your body.
4. Dad’s health – It is important for your partner to take care of himself as well. Exercising, eating right, stopping smoking and drinking, eliminating exposure to hazardous substances, and having a physical exam that includes testing for STDs are some of the health-related issues he should consider.
Knowing when you are ovulating (when the ovary releases an egg to be fertilized) is key to getting pregnant. According to the American Pregnancy Association, most women who have regular menstrual cycles (28-32 days; Day 1 is when you start your menstrual period) are fertile for about 3 days between days 11 and 21 of their cycle. This is usually around Day 14. There are ways of knowing when you are most fertile by using a basal body thermometer or looking at your cervical mucus. Your basal body temperature will go up when you ovulate, so if you track your temperature each day during your cycle, this can help you know when you ovulate. When you ovulate, your cervical mucus will become abundant, slippery, clear, and very stretchy, like egg whites. Track your cervical mucus each day, by gathering some with your finger, and this can help you know when you are ovulating. Most women have about a 25% chance of getting pregnant each month. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine recommends women consult their health care provider if she is: 1) under 35 years old and has been trying to conceive for more than 12 months, or 2) over 35 years old and has been trying to conceive for over 6 months.
Signs of Pregnancy
The most common sign of pregnancy is missing one or more consecutive periods; missed periods can also be caused by other health issues, however, so it is important to see your health care provider to diagnose the cause. Others signs and symptoms of pregnancy may include:
- Nausea or vomiting (morning sickness)
- Sore breasts or nipples
- Headaches, dizziness
- Food cravings or aversions
- Mood swings
- Frequent urination
As soon as you think you are pregnant you should see your health care provider to begin prenatal care, to give you and your baby the best chance for a healthy pregnancy.
What Happens in the First Trimester?
According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, during the first month of pregnancy, your baby’s brain, spinal cord, heart, digestive system, and other organs begin to form and by week five, baby’s heart will begin to beat. As the trimester moves forward, baby’s umbilical cord will form, as well as fingers, toes, nails, and nerves. Towards the end of the first trimester the gender of the baby will become apparent. For mother, you may continue to notice many of the symptoms listed above, though it is important to remember that every woman experiences pregnancy differently. You may have many of the symptoms or none at all. It is also important to remember with regard to nausea and vomiting, if you are unable to eat or drink for 24 hours, you should call your health care provider.
Do you need further information or have questions or comments about this article? Check out the March of Dimes website at http://www.marchofdimes.com. For resources in your area and more information about the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity, please call toll-free 1-877-530-1824 or visit our website: http://www.wakehealth.edu/MACHE.