Nothing is more life-changing than bringing a new baby into the world. When you first discover you are pregnant, you’ll have a lot of decisions to make, particularly if it is a new experience for you. Here are some tips to help you start a healthy pregnancy once you find out you are expecting.
1. Stop smoking – NOW!
If you smoke, do whatever it takes to stop smoking as soon as you learn you are pregnant. Short of high-risk physical activity, few things pose a greater danger to a healthy birth than tobacco use. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking while pregnant carries one of the highest risk factors for infant mortality.
Smoking can result in a low birth weight and premature delivery. This makes the baby more susceptible to illness and could require a much longer hospital stay. It also is a risk factor of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
When you quit smoking, your baby will begin to receive more oxygen after only one day. There is less risk your child will be born too early, and it’s more likely the baby will be able to come home with you from the hospital. Of course, it benefits you, as well. You’ll be at less risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer, or chronic lung disease, and you will feel more energetic and breathe more easily. Call 1-800-888-8362 to receive information about smoking cessation programs near you.
2. Abstain from alcohol
Alcohol is carried to baby directly in the mother’s bloodstream through the umbilical cord. As with smoking, there is no known safe level of alcohol use nor a safe time to drink while pregnant.
The primary dangers to the unborn child fall into a group of disabilities known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). FASDs can include abnormal facial features, smaller head size, shorter than average height, and low body weight. They can also lead to poor coordination, hyperactivity disorders, poor memory, learning and speech disabilities, and a list of other problems.
Regardless of the type, all alcoholic beverages are equally harmful, whether it’s wine, beer, or anything harder. In short, the best advice is to abstain for the duration of the pregnancy.
3. Review your medications
Prescription medications can have varying effects on your baby. To identify potential dangers, you should review with your doctor anything you’re currently taking. If you take prescription drugs for depression, bipolar disorder, asthma or seizures, the doctor may suggest alternatives or adjust dosages.
You may want to avoid certain over-the-counter medications, too. While it’s not likely a dose or two of ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) will harm your baby, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports that it may be harmful during the third trimester. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is generally considered safe to take throughout pregnancy. Other over-the-counter items like herbs, minerals, amino acids, and acne medications containing isotretinoin should be avoided.
4. Adjust your diet
When you first learn you’re expecting, it’s a good idea to start thinking about your eating habits. Do you eat healthy? What should you avoid eating, or eat more of? First, start with a good prenatal vitamin to provide nutrients that may be harder to obtain from food alone, such as folic acid and iron.
Caffeine is a stimulant and diuretic (causes an increase in passing of urine). It can raise blood pressure and heart rate, neither of which are healthy during pregnancy. The March of Dimes, an organization working to end birth defects, recommends pregnant women limit their caffeine intake to less than 200mg per day.
Because it is far more prevalent than you might think, identifying where your caffeine is coming from can be challenging. Generally, people associate the substance with coffee, tea, and soda, but caffeine also hides in other foods like chocolate, breakfast cereal, frozen yogurt, and many others.
Keep in mind that, although it may seem like a good idea, pregnancy is not the time to diet for weight loss. “While you only need an extra 300 calories per day to grow a baby, appropriate weight gain is beneficial for both of you,” said Beverly Alten, MD, an obstetrician with Kettering Health Network. “A nutritious diet, rich in vitamins and protein, along with approved exercise, will help you maintain a healthy weight.”
5. Exercise and sleep
Physical activity and sleep are probably the two things most people lack in their daily lives already. Throw in a new pregnancy and, in nine months or so, a newborn baby, and the time devoted to either drops even more.
According to the Mayo Clinic, at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise is recommended for most pregnant women each day. But don’t overdo it – you should be able to carry on a conversation during your workout. More intense activity can reduce blood flow and oxygen delivery to the uterus. Talk to your doctor about appropriate exercise for your pregnancy.
Getting enough sleep is also a vital part of an expectant mother’s health; however, many women experience disturbed sleep while pregnant. Changing hormone levels, disruption of the normal routine, and other factors can interrupt your sleep pattern. To cope with these issues, the National Sleep Foundation recommends prioritizing sleep in your schedule.
Exercise can help improve sleep quality, as well as doing something productive if you experience trouble sleeping. Don’t try to force yourself to sleep – it may just increase your stress and anxiety. If you nap during the day, try to do it earlier, so you don’t struggle to fall asleep at night.
Finally, try to enjoy this time before baby arrives. You can learn more about “What to Expect When You’re Pregnant” from Dr. Alten during a special maternity event at Fort Hamilton Hospital on Thursday, April 11. It’s free to the public and begins at 5:30 p.m.