Plan your #pregnancy-What you should know

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You've decided to take the plunge into parenthood. But wait just a second —there are some important things you need to know and do before you head down that road.
It is worrying that most women are only concerned about what happens after they conceive, oblivious of the fact that a healthy pregnancy  actually begins long before they even think about motherhood. Take a moment to learn what you can do now to give yourself the best chance for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
1. Schedule a preconception visit: 
Experts now recommend that women start seeing an obstetrician before they become pregnant for something called pre-pregnancy or preconception care. 
During a visit, the following will be reviewed. 

A) Lifestyle and Behaviors

Conception occurs about 2 weeks before your period is due. That means you may not even know you're pregnant until you're more than 3 weeks pregnant. Yet your baby is most sensitive to harm 2 to 8 weeks after conception. This is when your baby's organs such as the heart begin to form. Anything you eat, drink, smoke or are exposed to can affect your baby. That's why it's best to start acting as if you're pregnant before you actually are.

About 20% of low-birth-weight births, 8% of preterm deliveries, and 5% of all delivery deaths are linked to smoking during pregnancy. Smoking can also make it harder for you to get pregnant. It lowers a woman's  fertility level by directly affecting the ovaries and decreasing estrogen levels. 
It is therefore important to stop smoking way before and during pregnancy to help give your baby the best chance of survival.
- Drinking of Alcohol
There is no guaranteed safe level of alcohol use at any time during your pregnancy or even when you're trying to get pregnant. Alcohol can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). The risk remains throughout your pregnancy, including before you know you are pregnant. FASDs are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects can include physical, behavioral, and learning problems. Some of these effects may not be recognized until your child is in school. 
Therefore, all kinds of alcohol should be avoided, including red or white wine, beer, and liquor. If you are pregnant and have been drinking, it's never too late to stop.
- Using “Street” Drugs
street drugs can cause many problems during pregnancy for a woman and her baby.
  •  Risk associated with heroin intake:
    • Miscarriage.
    • Slowing the growth of the baby, leading to a low birth weight.
    • Premature labour, thus premature babies
    • Stillbirth.
    • The baby having withdrawal symptoms after birth
  • Using cocaine increases the risk of:
    • Serious life-threatening bleeding from the uterus in late pregnancy (placental abruption).
    • Miscarriage.
    • Slowing the growth of the baby, leading to a low birth weight.
    • Premature labour leading to the baby being 'prem'.
    • Stillbirth.
    • Possibly, abnormalities of the baby when it is born.

B) Vaccinations (shots)

Having the right vaccinations at the right time can help keep you healthy. Make sure you're up to date on your immunizations. The healthcare provider will test your immunity to childhood diseases such as chicken pox and rubella (German measles) and answer any questions you have. The rubella virus usually causes a mild illness to the mother but can seriously damage an unborn baby, especially in the early stages of growth.
Note that Specific vaccinations such as the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella), varicella (chickenpox), or hepatitis A vaccines increase the risk of birth defects. Wait at least 28 days after receiving some of these vaccinations before trying to conceive.

C) present health

It's important to be clear of infections when you're trying to get pregnant, especially those that could harm your baby-to-be. If it's been a
year since you had a checkup, you can expect to have a pelvic exam and a pap smear, and to be
tested for sexually transmitted diseases if you're at risk. 
Common infections that may not only interfere with conception but also affect your pregnancy include,


Hepatitis B


Other STDs (such as chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea)

Thyroid problems (with a TSH test)

  • Other conditions, such as toxoplasmosis, parvovirus B19 (also called fifth disease), and cytomegalovirus
Regardless of what your exam uncovers,  by knowing the potential trouble spots ahead of time, you can be better prepared to deal with any problems that might develop during your pregnancy, regardless of the cause.

D) family medical history 

One of the things we're seeing in the dawning of the 21st century is a tremendous amount of new information on genetic risk assessment. It is time to be aware of any potential genetic risks before you conceive. Pursue genetic testing for specific conditions, such as sickle cell disease, Tay-Sachs, or cystic fibrosis, based on your regional background or family history.
African Americans are at risk for sickle cell anemia, eastern Europeans need to be checked for Tay-Sachs disease, Mediterranean people and southeast Asians have to watch out for thalessemia, while Caucasians of northern European extraction should be screened for cystic fibrosis, all before getting pregnant.

E) Medical Conditions

Obtaining your doctor's help in controlling any pre-existing medical conditions before getting pregnant is key. If you have an existing medical condition, such as epilepsy, high blood pressure, asthma, or diabetes, it's especially important to seek out medical care before getting pregnant. Not only is it crucial to keep these illnesses under control during your pregnancy for both your and your baby's sake, but some common medications used to treat these conditions -- such as certain high blood pressure drugs -- can have an adverse affect on your pregnancy. If this is true of a medication that you're currently using, your doctor may be able to suggest a substitute. 

Whatever the problem is, your pre-conception exam should address it because the better control you have over your health, the healthier your pregnancy and your baby will be.

F) Weight

If you are overweight, try to lose the extra pounds. Being overweight, the risk for things such as pre-eclampsia, stillbirth and the need for a caesarean section compared with women who are not overweight, is higher. You may also be less comfortable during pregnancy, and your labor, delivery period, may be prolonged.
If you are underweight, talk with your doctor or other health care professional about ways to reach and maintain a healthy weight.

2. Medications

Don't take medicines that you can buy over the counter unless they are known to be safe in pregnancy. Certain medications are very safe to use during pregnancy, others are very unsafe, but even those which are not recommended can often be switched with less toxic treatments, so you don't have to sacrifice relief in order to have a safe pregnancy. Check with your doctor before attempting conception.

3. Go off the pill

Stop your birth control a couple of months before you plan to start trying. This gives you a bit of time to see what your natural menstrual cycle is like so you can figure out when you're ovulating (the time of the month when you're most fertile). If you've been taking the pill for a while, your cycle could be different from what it was before you started. It can take a while for hormone levels to get back on track after you ditch the pill, but if your period's still MIA after three months, you should see your doctor. 

4. Folic Acid 

Many women don't realize how important it is to take this supplement prior to attempting conception. It is a naturally occurring vitamin which your body needs.  Studies show that folic acid can protect your baby from developing spina bifida, a life-threatening spinal malformation. Folic acid also reduces the risk of having a baby born with a cleft lip and palate, a heart defect (congenital heart disease), and the risk of a premature  labour.
Folic acid is important right from the very moment your baby is conceived, and since many women can be pregnant four, six, or eight weeks before they know it, taking folic acid prior to conception is one important way to ensure your body has a good supply right from the very start of your pregnancy. 
every woman who is sexually active and not using a highly reliable method of birth control should be taking folic acid, just on the off chance that she does get pregnant. 

5. Reduce environmental risks/ Limit exposure 

Limiting exposure to other potentially harmful lifestyle factors, like pesticides, cleaning chemicals, or strong paint fumes. If you're routinely exposed to chemicals or radiation, you'll need to make some changes before you conceive.
Pets and gardening
It's a good idea to wear gloves when digging in the garden or sandbox, and to get someone else to change the litter box to avoid contracting toxoplasmosis. This germ is commonly found in raw meat, and sheep, lamb and cat faeces. Ideally you should avoid contact with pets and other domestic animals as they increase risk of infection.

6. . Diet and Food

Aim to eat a healthy diet. Eat a variety of protein sources, such as beans, nuts, seeds, soy products, poultry, and meats. A growing baby  also needs iron, calcuim and folic acid right from the start of the pregnancy. Avoid liver and liver products as they contain vitamin A which is known to cause harm to unborn babies if taken in large amounts.
 Also avoid sea products. The problem with seafood is related to the mercury content, and because this is a heavy metal it can accumulate in fatty tissue, so it can remain in the body long enough to cause at least some potential harm after conception. Also, some types of fish may contain a small amount of chemicals from pollution, including dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
You'll also want to stay away from unpasteurized soft cheese and other dairy products, cold deli meats, and raw and undercooked fish and poultry. These foods can harbor the bacteria that cause listeriosis, a food-borne illness that can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth.

7. exercise

The more fit you are, the easier your pregnancy and delivery may be. Note however that certain exercises may do more harm than good.  In addition, if you have a history of miscarriage, talk to your doctor before engaging in any strenuous exercise program.

6. dental care

Hormonal shifts, increased progesterone and estrogen levels,  during pregnancy can make you more susceptible to gum diseases. Women who take care of their periodontal health before they get pregnant cut down on their chances of experiencing gum complications in pregnancy. 
If you optimize your health prior to getting pregnant, ultimately, you can have a healthier pregnancy, which is not only good for you, but important to your baby.
Last modified onThursday, 24 October 2013 12:31
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