Family planning and pregnancy is often an exciting time for women. We find creative ways to announce a new pregnancy to friends and family. We scroll through Pinterest to research ways to reveal the baby’s gender, entertain at the baby shower and decorate the new nursery. During the excitement, we don’t stop to consider the stress that pregnancy has on a woman’s body. Are there steps we can take before conception that will reduce complications of pregnancy and improve newborn outcome? The answer is a resounding YES!
First let’s review how pregnancy changes a woman’s body:
- In the early stages of pregnancy, blood volume increases by 30–50 percent. This causes the mother’s heart and kidneys to work harder.
- An increase in blood plasma dilutes oxygen carrying blood cells, or hemoglobin, which results in anemia.
- Certainly a growing “baby bump” becomes more evident over time. About half way through the pregnancy, the enlarging uterus reaches the belly button (called the umbilicus).
- The baby and the uterus continue to grow throughout the pregnancy. As the uterus grows, it stretches toward the rib cage. This makes it harder for the lungs to expand, resulting in shortness of breath.
- Mothers often experience heartburn and constipation. This is because the uterus continues growing and pregnancy hormones decrease the body’s ability to process food.
A healthy pregnancy starts before conception
Preconception health focuses on lifestyle changes to promote maternal health and prepare for the physical stress of pregnancy and delivery. Early planning with your doctor is the chance to monitor fetal organ development during the first trimester. This can reduce complications during the pregnancy.
Your doctor will work with you and will recommend individual preconception health plans. Areas you and your doctor will address include:
Medical history and pre-existing conditions
- Are immunizations up to date?
- Exposure to communicable disease during pregnancy can have devastating effects on fetal development.
- Influenza (flu) infection is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women.
- A Tdap immunization in the third trimester will offer immune support to the newborn to ward off pertussis or whooping cough infection.
- Is there a pre-existing condition that impairs function of the heart, lungs or kidneys?
- If you have impaired organ function prior to pregnancy, you can work with your doctor to establish a care plan to handle decisions proactively and not solely during emergency conditions.
Previous pregnancies and family history
- Were there any complications in previous pregnancies that have an increased possibility of occurring in the next pregnancy?
- I.e. gestational diabetes, pregnancy induced hypertension, postpartum depression, pre-eclampsia.
- Early screening and/or interventions can reduce onset of disease
- Your doctor may also evaluate you for hereditary conditions the next generation may inherit
- A developing fetus may be adversely affected by exposure to medication. However, it is not reasonable to ask pregnant women to discontinue all medications when there is significant benefit to your health. Medications are classified into categories and sometimes changes in medications can be made to reduce risk to the developing fetus. Some medications your physician will review include antidepressants, blood pressure medications, over-the-counter medications and supplements.
Nutrition & Lifestyle
- Evidence shows a healthy weight prior to pregnancy reduces the incidence of hypertension (high blood pressure), pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure with additional complications such as kidney problems), gestational diabetes (diabetes occurring during pregnancy) and giving birth early.
- A nutrient rich diet provides the rapidly developing fetus with the building blocks it needs. Developing good eating habits before pregnancy can establish good nutrition. Refer to www.choosemyplate.gov for more information.
- Establishing an active lifestyle prior to pregnancy will help maintain a healthy weight and prepare the body for the strenuous activity of delivery.
- The addition of folic acid (400ug/day) 1–3 months before conception (and taken throughout pregnancy) is known to reduce the incidence of neural tube defect (spina bifida and anencephaly) in newborns.
- Exposure to toxins like alcohol, tobacco smoke, and environmental hazards should be avoided during pregnancy.
If you are considering pregnancy, schedule an appointment with a women’s health provider to maximize health before pregnancy, reduce pregnancy complications, and promote the birth of a healthy baby!