Tips for Healthy Pregnancy

Every year most of the 4 million babies born in the U. S. are healthy.  With significant advances in medical research and health care, most babies born are the result of uncomplicated pregnancies.  However, each year, nearly 1 million moms-to-be experience pregnancy-related complications, according to some estimates.  Complications can range from easily treated vitamin deficiencies to more complex conditions, such as preeclampsia (high blood pressure), gestational diabetes, placental abruption, placenta previa and oligohydramnios.  High blood pressure in the mother can have negative effects on the unborn baby and preeclampsia can be life-threatening for both the mother and baby.  Fortunately, steps can be taken to learn more about these complications, their risk factors and methods to prevent or reduce their impact.

Being healthy (including having a healthy weight and blood pressure) is one of the most important things a woman can do before she even becomes pregnant.  Therapies for medical conditions should be optimized before the pregnancy occurs.  Getting diabetes under control is one example of therapy optimization.  Prior to pregnancy, women should take vitamins, eat healthy, and be active.

Good Nutrition in Pregnancy

Tips for Having a Healthy Pregnancy
Good nutrition is always important and some nutrients are especially critical for the health of the baby.  Vitamin B folate, also known as folic acid, is one of the most essential.  Taking folic acid one month before pregnancy and 3 months after becoming pregnant can reduce a baby’s risk for certain birth defects (including neural tube defects) by about 70%.  The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age receive 400 micrograms of folic acid on a daily basis.

There are many other nutrients that play a key role during pregnancy.  Iron is necessary for healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body.  Calcium is essential for bone growth in the unborn baby and it helps prevent bone loss in the mother.  Folic acid, iron, and calcium are some of the nutrients found in prenatal vitamins.

Handling Pre-existing Conditions

Other prenatal issues are more complex.  Obesity is a common risk factor for preeclampsia, premature birth, gestational diabetes, and macrosomia.  Complications that occurred in a previous pregnancy are often a good indicator of how later pregnancies will progress.  Of course, a woman’s age and her preexisting medical conditions also contribute to the risk of pregnancy complications.

Complications and Pre-term Birth

Only a small percentage of pregnant women develop preeclampsia (high blood pressure that begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy), but the consequences can be devastating.  It is the leading cause of maternal death worldwide, as it can progress into eclampsia, causing seizures in the mother.  Women in the U.S. have only a small chance of dying from preeclampsia, thanks to advanced prenatal care.  However, the baby is at a great risk of dying from the condition or suffering from other complications, such as premature birth and a chronic lack of oxygen and nutrients, which can cause the baby to have intrauterine growth restriction and/or brain damage such as cerebral palsy.  Preeclampsia also increases a woman’s likelihood of developing heart-related problems later in life.

Many studies funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) have focused on preterm birth.  Premature birth occurs when a baby is born prior to the 39th week of pregnancy, and it occurs in over 12% of babies born in the U.S.  Premature babies face many health challenges, such as breathing difficulties and the potential for lifelong medical problems.

In 2003, a study funded by the NIH found a promising new treatment for women who have had a premature birth.  Weekly injections of the hormone progesterone significantly decreased the likelihood of later premature birth for these at-risk mothers.  A later study found that progesterone can also help decrease the likelihood of premature birth in women who have a short cervix.

The Importance of Regular Prenatal Care

A healthy pregnancy isn’t just one that is free of complications.  A healthy pregnancy is one in which medical conditions are well-controlled so there is no long-term harm to the mother or baby.  It is very important to have regular prenatal visits so complications can be detected early and their impact can be minimized.  A healthy diet and active lifestyle are also important, both before and during pregnancy.

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