When I was pregnant with my third child, I had two friends who were also expecting. We would get together once a week and, over milkshakes, compare our growing bellies and laugh about our big maternity pants
We would also share our fears. Together we obsessed about nearly everything that could go wrong in the 40 weeks of pregnancy. What are these pains? Why am I so tired? How much will labor hurt? Can I handle another child? And the big one: Will my baby be healthy?
Worries and pregnancy seem to go hand in hand. Fortunately, however, most women of childbearing age are healthy and most pregnancies are considered ‘low-risk.’ For most women, the surest way to have a healthy baby is to live a healthy lifestyle. The March of Dimes suggests the following precautions:
- Get early prenatal care, even before you’re pregnant.
- Eat a well-balanced diet, including a vitamin supplement that contains folic acid.
- Exercise regularly with your doctor’s permission.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs, and limit caffeine.
- Avoid x-rays, hot tubs, and saunas.
- Avoid infections.
- Getting Good Care
When it comes to medical care and pregnancy, you can never start too early. ‘The best start to having a healthy baby is to see your health-care provider before you conceive,’ says Richard Schwarz, M.D., an obstetrician and national consultant for the March of Dimes.
‘There are lots of things you can do ahead of time,’ Schwarz adds. ‘You can make sure you’re immune to rubella [German measles], you can know your blood type, you can stop smoking and make sure your diet is healthy, and you can get any illnesses you might have under control.’
Once you’re pregnant, your health professional–either an obstetrician, family practitioner, nurse-practitioner, or nurse-midwife–will have you begin with monthly visits that increase to once a week or more at the end.
At each visit, the physician or nurse will perform a series of examinations and tests to determine the health of the mother and baby. These include measuring the growth of the uterus, listening to the baby’s heartbeat, taking the mother’s blood pressure and weight, and checking her urine for evidence of protein or sugar, which could be symptoms of complications. The care provider will ask the mother if she has any concerns or problems such as blurred vision, leg cramps, abdominal cramps, or unusual headaches. The mother may also undergo ultrasound and genetic tests during the pregnancy.