Prenatal care key to healthy pregnancy
The most important thing pregnant women can do for their babies is take care of themselves. Prenatal care is the key to a healthy pregnancy. Of the four million women who give birth each year in the United States, one-third experience some type of pregnancy-related complication, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Babies of mothers who do not receive prenatal care are three times more likely to have low birth weights and five times more likely to die than babies born to mothers who receive care.
Good prenatal care includes regular check-ups, special nutrition, adequate rest and regular exercise. It should begin while you are trying to get pregnant or as soon as you find out you are pregnant. This is the time to get medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma) under control, stop drinking and smoking, review with your physician the medications you are taking, and reduce exposure to toxic chemicals. You should also begin taking a prenatal vitamin with 400 to 800 milligrams of folic acid as early as three months prior to pregnancy.
If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes or a heart problem, are older than 35, or have an increased risk for preterm labor or some other complicating factor, you may be referred to a physician with expertise in high-risk pregnancies.
Maintaining a regular appointment schedule with your physician is a must to keep you and your baby healthy. If there are no complications or risk factors, you can expect to see your physician once a month through the 28th week of pregnancy, twice a month through the 36th week and once a week after the 36th week.
Your first exam typically occurs at six to eight weeks. Your first trimester will include a complete physical, pelvic exam and Pap test, blood draw and urine sample for laboratory work. We’ll calculate your due date and answer any questions you have.
Later prenatal visits will continue to review signs and symptoms and monitor your progress. We’ll listen to your baby’s heartbeat, assess fetal development, measure your weight gain and administer routine tests for anemia, blood type, HIV and other infections, gestational diabetes, Down syndrome and immunity to chicken pox and rubella. Other testing may be ordered depending on your age, family history, personal health history, ethnicity or results from previous tests.
Many parents eagerly anticipate an ultrasound exam that gives them an exciting first look on their baby. We typically do an ultrasound during your first visit to confirm the pregnancy, and offer another in the 18th to 20th week to look at the baby’s anatomy and make sure the pregnancy is developing normally.
The old saying is that when you are pregnant, you are eating for two. We recommend that you add a daily intake of 300 calories from a well-balanced diet. A weight gain of 25–35 pounds is normal during pregnancy.
Regular exercise during pregnancy relieves stress, decreases common discomforts such as backaches and fatigue and builds stamina for labor and delivery. We recommend 20–30 minutes a day, five days a week of aerobic conditioning and light weight lifting. Walking is a great activity for beginners. Women already accustomed to an exercise program should be able to maintain their routine so long as they don’t work out to the point of exhaustion.
For more information or to sign up for our childbirth education, breastfeeding or baby care basics classes, visit OhioHealth.com/classes.
Dr. William Hammett is a physician with Central Ohio OB/GYN in Delaware and an active member of the Grady Memorial Hospital medical staff.