Prenatal care is when you get checkups from a doctor, nurse, or midwife throughout your pregnancy. It helps keep you and your future baby healthy. Prenatal care is an important part of staying healthy during pregnancy. Your doctor, nurse, or midwife will monitor your future baby’s development and do routine testing to help find and prevent possible problems. These regular checkups are also a great time to learn how to ease any discomfort you may be having, and ask any other questions about your pregnancy and the birth of your future baby.
Schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. Your doctor will start by reviewing your medical history. He or she also will want to know about your symptoms. During this first appointment, urine and blood samples will be taken. (These will also be taken again on later visits.) Urine tests check for bacteria, high sugar levels (which can be a sign of diabetes), and high protein levels (which can be a sign of preeclampsia, a type of high blood pressure during pregnancy). Blood tests check for blood cell count, blood type, low iron levels (anemia), and infectious diseases (such as syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis).
Eating a balanced diet is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby. Be careful of the following foods and drinks during pregnancy.
Food that isn’t fully cooked can put you at risk for food poisoning. Don’t eat more than 2 or 3 servings of fish per week (including canned fish). Don’t eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish. These fish have high levels of mercury, which can harm your baby. If you eat tuna, make sure it’s light tuna. Don’t eat more than 6 ounces of albacore tuna and tuna steaks per week. It’s safe to have 12 ounces of canned light tuna per week.
Wash all produce before eating it. Keep cutting boards and dishes clean. Eat 4 or more servings of dairy each day. This will give you enough calcium for you and your baby. Don’t drink unpasteurized milk or eat unpasteurized milk products. These may have bacteria that can cause infections. This includes soft cheeses such as Brie, feta, Camembert, and blue cheese, or Mexican-style cheeses, such as queso fresco.
Some artificial sweeteners are okay in moderation. These include aspartame (brand names: Equal or NutraSweet) and sucralose (brand name: Splenda). However, if you have phenylketonuria (PKU), avoid aspartame. Don’t drink more than 1 or 2 cups of coffee or other drinks with caffeine each day.
Check with your doctor before taking any medicine. This includes prescriptions, pain relievers, and over-the-counter medicines. Some medicines can cause birth defects, especially if taken during the first 3 months of pregnancy.
Unless you have issues during pregnancy, you should get regular exercise. Exercise promotes a healthy lifestyle and can help ease discomfort. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Talk to your doctor about any conditions that may prevent exercise. Some women say exercising while pregnant makes labor and delivery easier. Walking and swimming are great choices. If you were active before pregnancy, it is probably safe to continue. If you weren’t active before pregnancy, start slowly. Listen to your body and don’t overdo it. Drink plenty of water to prevent overheating or dehydration, especially in the second trimester. It’s best to avoid exercises that may cause you to fall. This includes skiing and rock climbing. You also should avoid contact sports, such as soccer or basketball. Ask your doctor if you have any concerns.
How late you work in pregnancy varies for each person. Your job and work environment play a big role. For instance, jobs that involve radiation, lead, and other materials—such as copper and mercury—can be harmful to your baby. If your job is active, you may not be able to work as long. Desk jobs aren’t thought to cause harm to your baby. However, you should not rest a computer on your stomach or uterus.
Your overall health also plays a part in how long you work. If you’re at risk of certain issues or preterm labor, you may be on bed rest and not able to work.
Nausea or vomiting may strike anytime during the day (or night). Try eating frequent, small meals. Avoid foods that are greasy, spicy, or acidic. Some women are more nauseous when their stomach is empty. Keep crackers nearby to prevent an empty stomach. Talk to your doctor if morning sickness causes you to lose weight or lasts past the first 3 months of pregnancy.
Fatigue is common when you’re pregnant. Try to get enough rest or take naps if possible. Talk to your doctor if you have symptoms of fatigue. You may have anemia.
Being active can help reduce leg cramps. Stretch the calf of your leg by flexing your foot toward your knee. Also, stay hydrated by drinking lots of water.
Drink plenty of fluids. Eat foods with lots of fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, and bran cereal. Don’t take laxatives without talking to your doctor first. Stool softeners may be safer than laxatives
Try to avoid becoming constipated. Don’t strain during bowel movements. Clean yourself well after a bowel movement. Wet wipes may feel better than toilet paper. Take warm soaks (sitz baths) if necessary.
You may need to urinate more often when you are pregnant. Changing hormones can be a factor. Also, as your baby grows, he or she will put pressure on your bladder.
Avoid clothing that fits tightly around your waist or legs. Rest and put your feet up as much as you can. Avoid sitting or standing still for long periods. Ask your doctor about support or a compression hose. These can help prevent or ease varicose veins.
Your hormones are on a roller coaster ride during pregnancy. Your whole life is changing. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Get help right away if you feel sad or think about suicide.
The amount of discharge from your vagina can increase during pregnancy. Yeast infections, which can cause discharge, are common as well. Talk to your doctor if you see any unusual discharge or if it has an odor.
Brush and floss regularly. See your dentist for cleanings. Don’t avoid dental visits because you’re pregnant. Just be sure to tell your dentist you’re pregnant.
There are several things you should avoid while you’re pregnant. Take notice to follow this list of warnings. Talk to your doctor if you need help.
Don’t smoke or be around people who do smoke. Smoking raises your risk for miscarriage, preterm birth, low birth weight, and other health problems.
Don’t use drugs. Cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and other drugs increase your risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, and birth defects. Your baby could be born addicted to the drug you’ve been abusing. This is called neonatal abstinence syndrome. It can cause severe health problems for your baby.
Don’t drink alcohol. Drinking alcohol is the major cause of preventable birth defects, including fetal alcohol disorder.
Don’t clean your cat’s litter box or eat raw or undercooked red meat. You could get toxoplasmosis, a disease that can cause birth defects.
Don’t douche. Your vagina doesn’t require cleansing in addition to normal bathing. Douching disrupts the helpful bacteria that keep your vagina clean.
If you are consulting with a doctor for pregnancy care, book an appointment with Dr. Pallavi Agrawal