Pregnancy Advice: How to Achieve Healthy Prenatal Development
If you are expecting a baby, or planning to become pregnant in the near future, one important concern for you most likely is how to keep your baby healthy during the pregnancy. While there are always chances that things can occur beyond our control, there are definitely steps you can take to help your baby have the best chance possible.
Over the past few decades, not only have doctors become more aware of so many environmental influences that can affect a developing fetus. Mothers have also become more attached to the baby developing inside them. This might be partly due to ultrasounds and technology that helps parents view and feel close to an infant in early stages of prenatal development. This technology helps motivate parents to exhibit more nurturing behaviors like eating right and staying away from drugs and alcohol. The proof is in how much maternal and infant mortality rates have decreased.
What can the doctors do for you?
In the past all parents had to worry about was conceiving the baby, after that it was just months of waiting. Today, doctors possess the ability to check a baby’s progress and even intervene when medical help is needed. Medicine, blood transfusions and surgery are all ways that doctors can help treat conditions detected while the baby is still inside the mother.
A sonogram is a picture of the uterus, fetus and placenta. This is taken using ultrasound and used to measure fetal growth and gestational age. This will also help detect multiple pregnancies, evaluate uterine abnormalities, to detect and structural abnormalities in the fetus, to check to make sure the fetus is still living and to guide procedures like amniocentesis.
Amniocentesis is a test in which a sample of amniotic fluid is taken by a needle and used to examine fetal cells. The fetal cells can detect genetic and multicultural defects as well as chromosomal disorders. It is important to remember however, that there are risks involved with this procedure.
A common test that is done during the 16th and 18th week of pregnancy is a blood test done on the mother’s blood to test the amount of alpha-fetoprotein. This test can help predict defects in the formation of the brain or spinal cord. During the 15th and 20th weeks of gestation this can also help predict Downs syndrome. This test can be beneficial however it can also cause unnecessary stress. My personal experience with my second child returned test results with high risk rates. The doctors pushed for amniocentesis to confirm any defects. I opted not to do that procedure because of the risk factors and my son was born healthy. The experience did cause me to worry about and evaluate options that I wouldn’t have been told to consider otherwise.
Women should consume between 300-500 extra calories a day while they are pregnant. Eating extra protein is necessary. The more weight gained helps decrease the chance of a low birth weight baby. Too much weight gain however, can lead to risks such as gestational diabetes and having a baby so large that a c-section becomes necessary. Undernourishment is associated with risks factors that affect brain development. Such risk factors can lead to things like antisocial personality disorders and in studies have even been linked to schizophrenia.
Proper nutrients have been shown to not only affect the baby’s physical health but also cognitive development. DHA, (omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid) is found in breastmilk but also found in some types of fish and can be taken as supplements created from algae. Babies whose mothers had higher levels of DHS while pregnant show better attention abilities at 12 and 18 months of age.
Dietary supplements help women have bigger, healthier babies. Certain vitamins can be harmful to a baby so it is important to talk to a health professional and find out the best type of prenatal vitamins for you.
Check out my Hub: Why Omega 3 Fatty Acids Are Important In Pregnancy
- Why Omega 3 Fatty Acids Are Important In Pregnancy
Omega 3 fatty acids are a polyunsaturated fat, which basically means it is a “healthy” fat. As humans, our bodies do not produce these types of fats and so our only source of obtaining them is through diet. A typical diet is very low in Omega 3 fatty
2. Physical Activity
Regular exercise during pregnancy is good for the mother and typically doesn’t pose a threat to the baby. For the mother, exercise can help prevent constipation, improve respiration, circulation, muscle time and skin elasticity. It is important to avoid activities that may cause abdominal trauma.
Remember not to push yourself and keep your heart rate below 150. Take time to cool down after exercising rather than stopping abruptly.
If working during pregnancy, avoid strenuous working conditions, occupational fatigue and long working hours which are risk factors for premature birth.
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Almost everything a woman intakes during pregnancy makes its way to the uterus.
If you are already taking prescription drugs and you plan to become pregnant or already are pregnant, you must notify your doctor immediately to determine which drugs could be harmful and should be avoided during pregnancy. Over-the-counter drugs should only be taken after consulting a doctor.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and other alcohol related conditions are estimated to occur in nearly 1 in every 100 births. Prenatal alcohol exposure is the most common cause of mental retardation and the leading preventable cause of birth defects in the U.S. There are many theories but the truth is there is no known safe level of drinking during pregnancy. The best option is to avoid alcohol from the time you think about becoming pregnant until you stop breast-feeding.
Women who smoke during pregnancy are more than one and a half times as likely as non-smokers to have low-birth-weight babies. Tobacco use while pregnant can also increase the risk of miscarriage, prenatal growth retardation, stillbirth, infant death, colic and long term health, cognitive and behavior problems.
It’s not clear if caffeine during pregnancy can damage a fetus however it doesn’t seem to be the cause of any birth defects. Excessive caffeine intake such as 4 or more cups of coffee a day had been known to increase the risk of sudden death in infancy.
*Marijuana, Opiates and Cocaine
There is some evidence that suggests heavy marijuana use by pregnant women can lead to birth defects. Studies also indicate a greater amount of cancer causing mutations in babies whose mothers smoked marijuana while pregnant.
If a woman is addicted to morphine, heroin or codeine she is more likely to have a baby that is addicted to the same drugs and who will suffer the effects from the drug as least until the age of 6.
Infants who have been exposed to these drugs prenatally often have tremors, convulsions, fever, vomiting and breathing difficulties. The babies who survive are less alert and responsive and cry more often. They need immediate treatment for acute withdraw symptoms.
Cocaine use during pregnancy is linked to many risks such as spontaneous abortion, delayed growth and impaired neurological development.
4. Maternal Health
*Sexually Transmitted Diseases
AIDS can be transferred by an expectant mother to her baby through the placenta and through breast milk. There have been medical advances to prevent, detect and treat the HIV infection in babies. The rate of babies who acquired AIDS from their mothers has dropped significantly due to the combination of medically administered drugs, the recommendation that women with HIV should not breast feed and by choosing child birth by c-section.
Other STD’s like syphilis, gonorrhea and genital herpes can also have harmful effects on fetal development as well as the baby at the time of birth.
*Other Maternal illnesses
It’s important for parents to try to prevent any infections. Conditions such as a cold, flu, urinary tract, vaginal infections and STD’s should be treated immediately.
A mother with diabetes should be carefully monitored and managed. Vitamins and nutrition are extremely important in such cases.
Expectant mothers should avoid eating and be careful handling raw meat. Wash hands often, wash raw fruits and veggies and avoid cat feces. These things can cause an infection called toxoplasmosis which comes from a parasite found in cattle, sheep, pigs and cats. Cats should be checked for the infection, for fed raw meat and a pregnant woman should not change the litter box if possible or should do so with caution.
Fetal stress hormones rise and fall with those of the mother. Some moderate stress levels are fine and can even stimulate brain organization in the fetus. Large amounts of stress on the other hand have been linked to cognitive as well as physical defects in babies.
Today, more women are choosing to and able to have babies later in life. Women over the age of 25 who become pregnant are more likely to acquire complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure and severe bleeding. Although the risk to the baby is not much greater at this point, there is still a slightly higher risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, retarded fetal growth and other birth defects.
After the age of 40, the risk for needing operative deliveries is greater. After the age of 50, the threat of stillbirth and premature deliveries increases by three times.
Adolescents whose bodies are still growing also tend to have premature or underweight babies. This could be because a younger girl’s body that is still growing needs vital nutrients that would otherwise go to the baby.
5. Outside Environmental Hazards
Hazards of modern life such as air pollution, chemicals, radiation, extremes of heat and humidity can all effect prenatal development. These can lead to stunted growth, birth defects, abnormal brain function and even cancer later in life.
6. Paternal Factors
For men, exposure to lead, marijuana or tobacco smoke, alcohol or radiation in large amounts and certain pesticides may result in abnormal or poor quality sperm. Men who don’t have enough vitamin C in their diet are more likely to have children with birth defects and some types of cancer.
Smoking and drug use in men can cause genetic abnormalities.
Paternal age plays a role in that babies of older fathers have an increased risk of several rare conditions like Marfan’s Syndrome and Dwarfism.
Pregnancy can be scary considering all the potential harm that can come to mother and baby due to so many risk factors. That is why it is so important to keep yourself informed, pay attention to your body as well as your environment and have good communication with your doctor.
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