Are You Ready for Baby?
From diet and decorating to temptations and testing, there’s so much to consider once you discover you have a little one on the way.
“Don’t eat sushi!” “Take your vitamins!” “Why am I crying … again?!”
The path to parenthood can be quite overwhelming. However, like with many things, preparation is key, according to the March of Dimes’ deputy medical director, Diane M. Ashton, M.D.“Nutrition, getting enough exercise, keeping to a healthy weight and looking at your modifiable behavior are all important factors to think about throughout any pregnancy,” she says. Here, we take a look at some key components to consider as you prep for the next chapter to begin.
1. Evaluate Your Modifiable Behavior. Translation: take a look at your lifestyle and change it accordingly. Do you smoke or do drugs? Drink alcohol? Are you getting enough sleep? Eating enough? These are all behaviors that should be modified — immediately.
“Ideally, all of these behaviors should be changed prior to becoming pregnant,” says Ashton. “However, worst-case scenario, these habits should cease as soon as you know you’re pregnant.”
Understandably, if a pregnant woman does not discontinue these habits, the outcome could result in premature birth or birth defects … or even death. “
Alcohol use is the number one cause of birth defects among newborns,” says Ashton. In fact, up to 40,000 babies are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder each year in the U.S., according to the American Pregnancy Association. Because a baby is so small, alcohol breaks down much more slowly.
This, in turn, causes it to stay in the baby’s blood much longer than in the mother’s system and can result in irreversible harmful affects to a baby’s development, the association says.
Smoking: And smoking is no better. In fact, smoking during pregnancy is estimated to account for 20 to 30 percent of low-birth weight babies, up to 14 percent of preterm deliveries and about 10 percent of all infant deaths, according to the American Lung Association.
Even second-hand smoke can harm a baby, the association says. Being around smoke increases a mother’s risk of having a baby that weighs too little or has health problems.
Illegal Drugs and Prescribed Medication: After discussing alcohol and smoking, it should come as no shock that the same type of risks — if not, worse — are involved when you consume illegal drugs during pregnancy: miscarriage, low birth weight, premature labor, placental abruption, fetal death and even maternal death.
That said, if you are taking prescribed medications, especially antidepressants, talk with your physician about what is safe to continue taking during pregnancy.
See more on this under “Check Your Medications” later in this article and in the sidebar.
Bottom line: when you smoke, do drugs, drink alcohol … so does your baby. Be smart, not selfish — cut these habits out of your life immediately.
2. Take Your Vitamins. If you are attempting to become pregnant, consider taking prenatal vitamins and folic acid; they are proven to help prevent birth defects. If you are pregnant, these two tablets are highly recommended for your daily routine! Prenatal vitamins consist of a variety of vitamins and minerals.
During pregnancy, a woman’s daily intake requirements for certain nutrients, such as folic acid (folate), calcium and iron will increase.
“Folic acid has certain beneficial effects for preventing neural tube defects,” explains Ashton. “For women with a previous pregnancy that resulted in neural tube defects, higher doses of folic acid are very important.”
According to Ashton, “The recommendation at March of Dimes is that women of reproductive age take 400 milligrams of folic acid a day.”
Folic acid and prenatal vitamins are available over the counter. However, women should talk with their doctor for more information.
3. Put Down the Pizza! Sorry ladies, but you’re not really “eating for two.” This myth is false.
In reality, you only need to increase your caloric intake by about 300 calories per day — and that’s in your second and third trimesters.
However, the food you eat to achieve that weight gain is vital. Filling up on French fries or pizza is fine every once in a while, but at no point should it be part of your daily routine — pregnancy or not!
By eating overly fatty foods that offer little to no nutritional value, you’re not only doing a great disservice to your unborn child, but you’re packing those pounds onto your own body as well.
Incorporating vegetables, whole grains and legumes, lean protein and other smart food choices into your eating plan before and during pregnancy will give your baby a strong start in life and hopefully make labor a bit easier (fingers crossed!).
4. Exercise … Even If You Don’t Want to. Exercising during pregnancy does wonders for your overall well-being during what may seem like the nine longest months of your life.
Daily exercise, such as a simple walk or yoga class, will help improve your circulation, which, in turn, helps prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, leg cramps and swelling of the ankles, according to the Mayo Clinic.
What’s more, it also helps prevent back pain because you are strengthening the muscles that support your back. Yes, pregnancy makes you tired. But, as is true even when you’re not pregnant, exercising increases your endorphins and gives you energy. It also helps your body rest better at night — something all pregnant women desperately need. This also can result in a better mood during the day.
If you’re still not convinced to get off the couch, this might get you moving: the more you exercise during pregnancy, the less likely you are to gain excess weight. Ask any woman who’s already had a child — getting rid of the excess weight is harder than it seems, so get moving!
Remember, before starting any exercise program, check with your physician.
5. Back to School. Childbirthing classes are a great way to not only help quell your nerves about labor and delivery, but to also meet people who truly understand what you’re going through.
What’s more, these classes help involve your partner in the process a bit more and help show them how to help you once childbirth is near.
From breathing techniques and massage to optional pain medication, your instructor should cover it all so you are prepared to make educated decisions. Also, most hospitals and birthing centers offer full tours so that you are more comfortable and familiar with your surroundings once the big day arrives. Learn all you can before the big day arrives — you will be happy you did!
Ask your doctor for more information on childbirth classes and facility tour options.
6. Get Some Rest! Nine (really 10!) months of pregnancy is tough. Women are often just as mentally and emotionally tired as they are physically exhausted. From decorating the nursery to unexpectedly crying at commercials, having another person growing inside you is taxing.
So, it is OK to rest sometimes. In fact, your doctor will tell you that it’s vital to rest and get enough sleep daily. This is one of those times to let others dote on you. Enjoy it because once baby comes, it’s over!
7. Be a Good Patient and an Even Better Mom. Finding a doctor you trust is important as you walk the path to motherhood. So when your doctor tells you to make the appropriate appointments or go to the lab to get blood work done, listen.
Does the orange-like, sugary drink to test for gestational diabetes taste good? Absolutely not, but remember— it’s no longer just about you.
So do what your doctor tells you to do. Take the mandatory tests and strongly consider the tests they call “optional.” Optional tests include blood work for Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis and various birth defects, including spina bifida, congenital heart defects and brain defects.
Be as informed and educated as you can be. As always, if you have any questions, talk to your doctor.
8. Check Your Meds. If you are taking any medication — prescribed or not —consult your doctor immediately. You’d be surprised at what you cannot take during pregnancy. And, if you’re considering getting pregnant and already on medication, talk with your doctor prior to conception.
For some, continuing on their prescribed meds won’t be an issue. However, for others, it may be a choice between staying on the medication or having a baby. Otherwise, you could cause great harm to your child.
Specifically, there have been heightened reports as of late of a link between the use of antidepressants during pregnancy and birth defects.
In fact, researchers are quickly learning more about these medications and the potential effects they could have on unborn children.To that end, the FDA has classified the antidepressant Paxil as a Category D drug as it relates to a use-in-pregnancy rating, meaning that there is positive evidence of human fetal risk based on adverse reaction data (see sidebar for more).Be sure to talk with your doctor and understand the risks.
“If you have a woman who is severly depressed, it might be more important for her to stay on her medication than for her to have a child,” says Ashton.
Having a baby is one of the greatest things a woman can do. Your body is a temple; treat it that way. There will be moments of uncertainty, fear and, of course, pain, but remember — it is all worth it at the end.
Enjoy this time and remember that you are beautiful, powerful and special. Your baby already knows that.
Know the Risks: Paxil & Pregnancy
By Tor Hoerman
Matthew was only 3 hours old when his parents realized that his path in life would be one that required great fortitude. He was born with a rare, life-threatening heart condition called hypoplastic right heart syndrome. What followed was a series of corrective efforts, culminating in open heart surgery at just 6 months old.
By the time Matthew was 5, his condition worsened. Physicians attempted surgery, but Matthew’s kidneys were failing.
Matthew’s only hope for life would require a heart transplant. With the help of friends, family, local news and medical professionals, he was placed on the children’s organ transplant list and miraculously
became the recipient of a heart that his body accepted.
Though his future continues to be uncertain, one with limitations, risk of further surgery and constant monitoring, Matthew continues to fight for a life that’s normal as possible.
Unfortunately for Matthew’s mother, Elizabeth, this story is hardly unusual.
Like many women, Elizabeth experienced anxiety while trying to find balance in her life and was given Paxil, a drug often prescribed for depression and anxiety. Although undisclosed at the time, Paxil has
been linked to many birth defects when used during pregnancy.
Paxil has received a lot of attention regarding injuries related to its use during pregnancy, however, it now appears that Paxil is not alone; there are many other prescription medications that could potentially harm an unborn child. Unfortunately, the risk of birth defects associated with these other drugs has not received the same public attention.
If you are pregnant and/or of a child-bearing age, make sure you receive sufficient information about the risk of birth defects when taking prescribed medications.
— Tor Hoerman is an attorney with TorHoerman Law in Edwardsville, Illinois