Becoming a parent is one of the greatest joys women experience. Yet it also brings along responsibilities that start even before the baby is born to ensure that s/he is healthy and happy. Here’s how you can take care of your unborn baby and make the transition into parenthood easier.
Take charge of your preconception health
Preconception health relates to your health before you conceive, and knowing about the different risk factors and health conditions that can affect you or your unborn baby if you become pregnant.
Your preconception health is important because many pregnancies are not planned, and despite the advances in prenatal care and medicine, unplanned pregnancies can be at a greater risk of preterm birth and low birth weight of the baby. According to experts, women need to be healthier before they become pregnant and take actions on all health issues and risks beforehand to prevent problems that could affect the mother or her baby later.
So, how do you boost your health before conception?
Below are some important actions you can take for preconception health:
- Stop smoking and drinking alcohol.
- Get your medical conditions (if any) under control. These include oral health, diabetes, asthma, obesity and epilepsy.
- Take folic acid or other prenatal vitamins daily as prescribed by your doctor. Folic acid lowers the risk of birth defects of brain and spine.
- Talk to your doctor about any prescription or over-the-counter medication you are taking.
- Ensure that your vaccinations are up-to-date.
Your and your baby’s health during pregnancy
Congratulations, you’re pregnant!
There would be many questions you might have about what you should eat, what you must do or avoid, and what changes you must bring in your routine, to keep your unborn baby safe and healthy.
Here are some things that you must take note of:
A. Your diet
Pregnant women are bombarded with advice on what to eat, what to avoid and how much to eat. ‘Eating for two’ doesn’t necessarily mean you need to eat twice as much! On the contrary, it means that the foods you eat form the source of nutrients for your baby, and you need to eat balanced meals to keep you and your baby healthy.
Good foods for mother and baby include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Grains – Cooked or ready-to-eat cereals, wheat germ
- Non-fat or low-fat dairy – Milk, yogurt
- Meats, poultry, certain fish
Foods to avoid:
- Refrigerated smoked seafood like salmon, mackerel, fish with high levels of mercury, refrigerated meat spreads
- Unpasteurised milk and juices; unpasteurised soft cheeses like feta, Brie, queso blanco, queso fresco, blue cheeses
- Herb and plant medicines without doctor’s consultation
- Raw sprouts of any kind
You might want to discuss about and review your meal plans and/or need for supplements if you have special diet needs due to diabetes, lactose intolerance, PKU, or are a vegetarian (to ensure you eat enough protein). Further, there are certain ways to ensure food safety during pregnancy:
- Clean, cook and chill all food properly to avoid foodborne infections like that of listeria and toxoplasmosis.
- Keep raw meats and seafood separate from other foods.
- Ensure all food is cooked completely.
- Wash utensils properly.
- Wash all vegetables and fruits before consumption.
B. No smoking
Smoking cigarettes in not only harmful to your health (cancer and heart disease) but could also affect the health of your unborn baby. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of having a low-weight baby, a baby with heart problems that develop soon after birth, a baby with cleft lip or palate, and an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Pregnant women who smoke are also at an increased risk of miscarriage.
C. Take charge of your oral health
It is best to have regular dental check-ups before getting pregnant but expectant mothers can also undergo a complete oral exam during early pregnancy. Pregnant women often develop a condition known as pregnancy gingivitis, in which gums become swollen and bleed easily. Both poor oral hygiene and increased hormone levels in pregnancy cause it. Though it is not confirmed, gum disease could increase the chances of low birth weight of baby.
Even after birth, cavity-causing bacteria can be transferred to your baby by direct contact or through objects.
D. Say no to substance abuse
Chemicals ingested or breathed through alcohol or illegal drugs can cross the placenta and reach your baby. This puts the baby at risk of problems such as low birth weight, stillbirth, birth defects, slow development and behavioural problems.
Effect of alcohol on your baby: A baby exposed to alcohol is at a high risk of being born with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), which causes abnormal facial features, learning disability and behavioural problems. The damage caused by alcohol can occur in the earliest stages of pregnancy, even before a woman might know she is pregnant.
Effect of illegal drugs on baby: Drugs are often used in combination of tobacco and alcohol. Babies born to women who use drugs are often born addicted and require a withdrawal therapy. It also increases the risk of contracting HIV through injected drugs. Effects of drug use are often not visible till the baby enters early childhood.
E. Stay alert about environmental risks
There are various environmental hazards that can put your pregnancy and your baby’s health at risk.
You can stay alert avoid exposure to the following:
- Mercury (found in large predatory fish)
- Lead (found in certain water and paints)
- Pesticides (in household products and food items)
- Solvents (chemicals like thinners, degreasers, paint strippers)
- Cigarette smoke (second-hand smoke)
- Arsenic (found in some well water)
Limit your exposure to these pollutants by taking certain everyday precautions:
- Check labels of products and food items before use.
- Stay away from ill-ventilated spaces or room being painted.
- Be careful of the water you consume at home or outside.
You and your baby are connected. So take care of your health and your baby’s development as you prepare to welcome your little bundle of joy into the real world!
Image courtesy of [Keerati] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
“Have a healthy diet in pregnancy,” NHS.uk, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/healthy-pregnancy-diet.aspx#close
“Pregnancy care,” MedlinePlus, NLM,NIH, https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007214.htm
“Pregnancy,” Womenshealth.gov, https://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/before-you-get-pregnant/preconception-health.html