Whether you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, there are some basic guidelines every woman of child bearing age should be following to ensure that the body is in optimal shape to conceive and grow a child. It’s important that you sift through what you read about conception and pregnancy to be sure you can separate the truths and the myths out there.
What to do while you’re trying to get pregnant
Let’s start with the woman who is trying to get pregnant and roll through the top six things she needs to be doing—and not doing—to ensure the best possible scenario for pregnancy.
- Be aware of your cycle. There are even apps out there for your smart devices designed to help you with that. A woman needs to know when her ovulatory time is so she can hone in on when are the most optimal times to conceive.
- Take prenatal vitamins. I definitely recommend a good prenatal vitamin, preferably one with DHA and folic acid. DHA is a fatty acid that has been found to help brain development and vision in the fetus. Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects in babies. These defects occur at a very early stage of development, before many women even know they’re pregnant—which is why it’s important to begin taking folic acid before you start trying to conceive.
- Eat healthy and exercise regularly. If you have risk factors such as diabetes or hypertension, you need to be in contact with your physician about those ahead of time to make sure they are under optimal control. If you have a family history of any disease, we need to be aware of that going into pregnancy.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Weight control can be a concern if you are on the overweight side. It is recommended to watch carbohydrate and sugar intake in general, but especially if your BMI (or body mass index) is on the high side.
- Limit caffeine. While caffeine is allowed during pregnancy, if you take in a lot of caffeine daily, we recommend you begin to taper that down, since you really have to minimize it when you are pregnant.
- Vaccinations and screenings. Ensure you are up to date on any necessary vaccines, such as MMR. Chicken pox or flu vaccines. Also, talk with your OB about pre-conception carrier screening for certain genetic conditions such as cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy, Fragile-X, thalassemias, or hemoglobinopathies.
Hopefully following some of the above guidelines can help you be in optimal health when you get pregnant. But the list of dos and don’ts gets a bit longer with pregnancy because we have to do everything we can to get your baby off to a great start and that happens during pregnancy where the baby is forming and developing and growing.
What to do during pregnancy
While most of it is common sense, there are a few things we like to make sure our patients understand and adhere to as much as possible during pregnancy. We are fortunate in this area because so much of our population is educated and the women know what they need to do for the most part. But here’s a list of the basics that I recommend to my patients and anyone who has just learned they are pregnant.
- Make an appointment with an OB/GYN. As soon as you discover that you are pregnant, call your OB/gyn and make that first prenatal appointment. We like to see women around week 7 or 8 if there are no complications. If there are complications such as pain or bleeding, we want to see you immediately. Many times, we perform bloodwork early on just to be sure everything looks normal. If you do have diabetes, I want to see you early so we can ensure that your blood sugar is under control right away.
- Change your eating habits. The next most important thing to do is to begin making a few changes to your diet. We recommend avoiding unpasteurized cheeses due to the risk of listeria. Anything uncooked can harbor bacteria and your immune system isn’t as strong when you are pregnant. For that reason, we recommend avoiding raw sushi and cook any red meat to well done.
- Be aware of mercury in seafood. Certain seafood can have higher concentrations of mercury, so you should avoid fish with high mercury content. You can eat two to three servings of low-mercury content seafood per week.
- Limit caffeine. Caffeine is safe during pregnancy, but we don’t recommend more than 200 mg a day, which equates to about two cups a day. Excessive caffeine may be associated with complications such as premature birth, low birth weight and withdrawal symptoms in infants.
- Quit smoking. If you are a smoker, you need to quit. Simple as that.
- Don’t drink alcohol. Once you have conceived, it’s also important to stop drinking any alcohol. There is really no safe amount of alcohol while you are pregnant, so it’s important to cut that out of your daily routine.
- Highlighting hair is OK. It’s perfectly safe to highlight your hair. I get asked that question a lot and yes, it is safe to do so during pregnancy. We recommend that it be performed in a well-ventilated area.
- Intercourse is OK. Intercourse is safe during pregnancy unless your physician tells you otherwise.
- Watch your weight gain. Weight gain during pregnancy is a given. But it’s important to not feel like you have a green card to lay around and eat whatever you want for nine months. Excessive weight gain contributes to multiple problems ranging from babies that get too big in the womb to gestational diabetes and it raises the risk of having a difficult pregnancy and even a complicated delivery. There are times we need to restrict certain activities in patients, but we do want you to keep moving and keep your weight down to help reduce those complications.
- Weight gain will vary. Optimal weight gain during pregnancy varies from mom to mom, but for a normal sized person with an average BMI, 25 to 30 pounds is a recommended amount of weight gain.
- Exercise daily. You need to exercise 30 minutes a day unless you are having some complications. Some good options are walking, jogging, yoga, swimming and even weight training. Listen to your body during exercise and drink plenty of fluids. We do recommend that after 20 weeks, avoid lying flat on your back or any activities that pose a danger of falling such as snow skiing or horseback riding.
- Every woman is different. I like to advise that whatever is going to keep you happy and healthy is fine. But what that might be is going to be different for each mom. If there is something you’d like to do or try during pregnancy, run it by your OB.