All you need to know when planning pregnancy is the facts of life, right? Well, maybe not.
Not to make something simple seem complex, but when it comes to the health of mother and baby, a little bit of knowledge can go a long way.
The health of a child really begins with decisions made by the prospective mother well in advance of conception. Healthy choices include a healthy lifestyle. Women may want to focus on eating a well-balanced diet and a schedule of regular, low-impact aerobic activity to promote general wellness. Weight management can be a factor affecting fertility.
Women who suffer from chronic illness such as asthma, diabetes, arthritis or seizure disorder may want to visit with their doctor to discuss preconception planning, including a review of medication safety before pregnancy.
Women who drink alcohol, smoke or use street drugs need to kick the habit before pregnancy starts because toxic substances can pose a risk to fetal growth and development, as well as to the health of the pregnant woman. Of course, during pregnancy these substances need to be avoided as well.
Among the most common causes of preventable birth defects are a group of conditions called neural-tube defects, including conditions known as anencephaly (failure of the fetal brain to properly develop) and spina bifida. Prevention involves ensuring adequate intake of a vitamin called folic acid. Women are encouraged to take 400 micrograms of folic acid supplements daily in advance and throughout pregnancy. These supplements are found in prenatal vitamins.
In addition to a review of prescription medications and avoidance of illicit substances, women should consult a physician before using over-the-counter medications that may affect pregnancy-related health. Similarly, women in jobs where there is chemical exposure should review the pregnancy risk of worksite chemicals and take appropriate precautions before and during pregnancy.
Healthy habits before and during pregnancy include frequent hand-washing, avoidance of raw or under-cooked meats, unpasteurized milk products and cat litter. Yep, you have my permission to make the prospective father clean out the litter box. Tell him its for juniors sake. These habits can all reduce the risk of exposure to infectious agents that pose risk to pregnant women and the developing fetus.
Once pregnancy is diagnosed, it is doubly important to maintain these healthy habits. General wellness, avoidance of potential toxins and good hygiene all play a role in maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
Of equal importance is the establishment of early and regular medical care during pregnancy. Prenatal care is essential to monitor the health and well-being of mother and child. Many common conditions adversely affecting pregnancy can be treated after early detection.
On a final note, it is never too early to consider the nutritional needs of your infant. Breast-feeding has been found to have a broad variety of benefits for infants that cannot be reproduced by formula. Each woman must make a decision for herself about whether or not to breast-feed, but I encourage all prospective mothers to seek out information about this important topic both before and during pregnancy.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Health Center in Towaoc.