By Kathy Hubbard
“We’ve just closed on our new house, we have a few dollars left in our savings account, so we’re now ready to get pregnant,” a friend of mine’s daughter said recently. So, being the AAD (Almost a Doctor) that I am I asked what she was doing health-wise to make sure she was really ready.
That question confounded her. She said that she was relatively healthy. Her weight, never as low as she would like, was okay. But, what else was she supposed to worry about?
Well, it’s certainly not a time to worry, but it is a time to plan ahead for a healthy pregnancy and therefore a healthy baby. I referred her to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development website for answers. The first advice they give is to start with a visit to a health care professional.
“A health care provider can recommend ways to get the proper nutrition and avoid habits whose lasting effects could harm a fetus. For example, exposure to alcohol and tobacco early in pregnancy can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).”
NICHHD suggests that the couple talk to the medico about how many children they are planning to have, what the timing will be between births and what their overall plan for the future may be. Looking at the big picture allows the medico to become a better member of the overall health team.
“Taking a supplement containing at least 400 micrograms of folic acid before getting pregnant can reduce the risk of complications such as neural tube defects (NTDs) – abnormalities that can occur in the brain, spine, or spinal column of a developing fetus and are present at birth,” NICHHD says.
Folic acid is vitamin B9. A related form called folate is present in orange juice, green vegetables such as kale and spinach but isn’t absorbed as well as folic acid which helps produce and maintain new cells.
“This is especially important during times when the cells are dividing and growing rapidly such as infancy and pregnancy.” NICHHD says that the U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age (15 to 44) should take at least 0.4 mg of folic acid per day “for the purpose of reducing their risk of having a pregnancy affected with spina bifida or other NTDs.”
Next, the potential new mother should make sure that her vaccinations are up-to-date. Some immunization can be given to a pregnant woman, but others such as those for rubella (German measles) and varicella (chicken pox) cannot be.
Be sure to talk to the HCP about any medical conditions you or a close family member (on either side) has. “Getting health problems such as diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), asthma, seizure disorders, maternal phenylketonuria (a condition in which the pregnant woman’s blood level of a certain amino acid—phenylalanine—is too high) under control before and during pregnancy reduces the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth as well as other health problems for the infant.”
Although my friend said her weight was “okay” it’s important that she get it to a healthy number. “Obesity may make it more difficult to become pregnant,” NICHHD says. “Being overweight or obese also puts you at risk for complications during pregnancy, such as high blood pressure, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, stillbirth, and increases the chances of cesarean delivery.”
And, finally about worrying NICHHD said, “Good mental health means you feel good about your life and value yourself. It’s natural to worry or feel sad, anxious, or stressed at times. However, if these feelings do not go away and they interfere with your daily life, it’s important to seek help before you get pregnant. The hormonal changes during pregnancy can contribute to depression. Women who are depressed may have trouble eating or sleeping or may turn to tobacco, alcohol, or drugs, all of which can harm the fetus.”
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Committee. She can be reached at 264-4029 or email@example.com.