By Christopher A. Naraine, M.D.
Of the more than 3.7 million babies delivered in the United States last year, the vast majority were born healthy and free of complications.
To help ensure you and your baby are as healthy as possible, it’s important to take care of yourself before you conceive and throughout your pregnancy. Moreover, proper prenatal self-care can even make delivery easier.
The Center for Maternal & Newborn Care at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center provides care for women who are pregnant or hoping to conceive and offers the support needed to maintain good health.
When a mother is in good health and at her best, there is less stress on her and the baby during pregnancy and delivery. To that end, there are several steps you can take to have the healthiest pregnancy possible:
- Take prenatal vitamins, including 400 micrograms of folic acid, before you conceive or as soon as you discover you are pregnant. Folic acid can help prevent birth defects that can develop in the brain and spine early in pregnancy.
- Talk to your physician about any other vitamins, supplements or medications you may be taking so your intake of nutrients can be properly monitored and medications can be adjusted to prevent any possible negative impacts on the development of the baby.
- Identify and manage underlying health conditions. Conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiac problems and auto-immune diseases can put stress on you and the baby, and can become worse during pregnancy. In some cases, these conditions can go undetected until you become pregnant, so proper management of your health is important.
- Make sure you are up-to-date on all vaccinations, including the flu shot. Vaccines help protect you and your baby from developing serious diseases. Get a flu shot and whooping cough vaccine during each pregnancy.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or underweight increases the risk for several serious birth defects and other pregnancy related complications. Try to reach a healthy weight before getting pregnant. Women who are overweight or obese during pregnancy have a greater risk for gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm birth and cesarean delivery.
- Exercise. Ideally, pregnant women should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Moderate intensity means you are moving enough to raise your heart rate and start sweating. You can still talk normally, but you cannot sing. Brisk walking, swimming, riding a stationary bike, modified yoga and Pilates classes are among the safest exercises for pregnant women. While exercise during pregnancy is generally healthy and safe, talk to your doctor about what exercises are best for you.
- Eat a healthy diet. A balanced diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, and includes whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and high-protein foods such as legumes, lean meat and certain seafood and fish. Some foods, such as certain fish that are high in mercury, should be avoided all together. Talk to your doctor about how to make safe and healthy food choices, and ensure you are getting the calories and nutrition you need during pregnancy.
- Don’t smoke, and avoid alcohol and drugs. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight for developing babies. It can also increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome after the baby is born. As the CDC notes, e-cigarettes and other nicotine products are not safe to use during pregnancy. Pregnant women should also avoid drinking alcohol and using illicit drugs. Women with substance abuse disorders should seek treatment prior to becoming pregnant.
An important part of ensuring a healthy pregnancy is prenatal care. Regular check-ups enable doctors to monitor your baby’s development and perform routine testing to identify any potential problems.
The OB/GYNs, midwives and nurses at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center’s Center for Maternal & Newborn Care are specially trained in maternity and newborn care. Anesthesiologists are at the hospital 24/7 and maternal fetal medicine experts are available for women with high-risk pregnancies. Additionally, neonatologists from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia are on site 24/7 to care for newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit.
A wide range of education programs for expectant and new parents are also available through Princeton Health, including prenatal and postnatal support groups for parents, grandparents and siblings. Lactation services, including breastfeeding classes and support groups, are also offered.
For more information or to find an obstetrician affiliated with Penn Medicine Princeton Health, call 888-742-7496 or visit www.princetonhcs.org.
Christopher A. Naraine, M.D., is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and is a fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology. He is a member of the medical staff of Penn Medicine Princeton Health.