How to have a healthy pregnancy

A woman who is pregnant or considering starting or expanding her family is always concerned about one thing: having a healthy baby. Healthy babies are the result of healthy pregnancies. There are many steps a woman can take both before becoming pregnant and during the important nine months leading up to delivery that can increase the odds that her new little baby girl or boy will enter the world in tip-top condition and grow into a robust child full of life and possibility.

“If a woman is thinking about getting pregnant she should see her doctor for a checkup,” says Cortez family physician Dr. Jill Schenk. Planning ahead can be helpful for women who want to try to time their pregnancy so that they deliver at a convenient time of year. Of course, such planning doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it can’t hurt to try. “Teachers, for example, sometimes want to time their pregnancies so they can deliver during the summer months,” said Schenk. A pre-pregnancy visit to the doctor can also help a woman identify any genetic or potential infertility issues that might need to be addressed.

Planning for pregnancy might also mean starting or ramping up an exercise and nutrition program. Being in the best possible physical condition prior to conceiving can help a woman have a more comfortable pregnancy and an easier delivery. Before getting pregnant, women are advised to stop smoking and using alcohol, get into the habit of eating highly nutritious food including plenty of fruits and vegetables, and making sure they’re getting enough iron and folic acid in their diets. Women who need dental care (even a cleaning) are advised to do so before they become pregnant. “The healthier you are going into the pregnancy, the easier time you’ll have overall,” said Schenk.

Planning ahead may even help a couple choose the gender of their baby, although the technique involved is far from foolproof. “The baby’s gender is determined by the father’s sperm,” said Schenk. “An X chromosome sperm produces a girl and a Y produces a boy. Sperm with the X chromosome tend to swim more slowly than do the Y, so if a couple has four boys and wants a girl, for example, they should try to conceive a couple of days before the woman ovulates. Conversely, if a couple wants a boy, they should try for the baby right at the time the woman is ovulating,” said Schenk. Again, no guarantees with this method, but if you have a strong preference for either a girl or a boy, it’s worth a try.

Whether a pregnancy is planned or unplanned, once a woman is pretty sure she’s pregnant, she should visit her doctor within a week or two. “Prenatal vitamins are started and we test women for certain infections, diabetes, anemia, thyroid issues, and certain genetic diseases,” said Schenk. The mother’s due date is established at this initial visit as well, something that most parents are excited to find out about.

A pregnant woman will see her doctor regularly throughout pregnancy to make sure that everything is on track. “We typically see a woman every four weeks until they’re about seven months along, and then the visits become more frequent leading up to delivery,” said Schenk. An ultrasound is typically scheduled somewhere between 18 and 20 weeks. “At this point we can assess the baby’s growth and see the heart, brain, spine, and other vital organs. We can tell the gender if the baby doesn’t moon us during the ultrasound!” Said Schenk. Parents are always given the option to find out if they’re having a boy or a girl, or they can choose to be surprised.

During each prenatal visit, women are checked for protein and sugar in the urine to test for potential diabetes or blood pressure problems. Diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) is fairly common with almost 20 percent of women experiencing some form of the disease during pregnancy. Regular exercise during pregnancy can reduce the chances of developing gestational diabetes, even in women who are overweight.

Regular activity such as walking, swimming, and light weight training can help a woman stay fit and feel better during pregnancy. However, certain types of exercise should be avoided during pregnancy. “Things involving dramatic changes in altitude are not recommended, so no high mountain climbing or scuba diving,” said Schenk. “Also, avoid anything that might result in a fall, such as horse jumping.”

Women should avoid being around people who are sick with infectious diseases while they are pregnant, just to be on the safe side. Safety is important as well. “It’s critical for women to wear seat belts during pregnancy, even when their bellies get big. If they’re in an accident the seat belt protects both mom and baby,” said Schenk.

The amount of weight a woman should plan to gain during pregnancy is variable. “If you’re a normal weight going into pregnancy, 20-35 pounds is about average, but this varies a great deal from woman to woman,” said Schenk. If a woman is overweight when she becomes pregnant, she might even lose weight over the nine month period because metabolism increases during pregnancy. Dieting is not recommended during pregnancy, however, because the baby needs to get proper nutrition via the mom’s diet.

“Pregnant women hear lots of stories from other people when they’re expecting, some of which can be frightening,” said Schenk. She advises her patients to bring up anything they are concerned about during regular office visits. “I tell patients to get ready to hear myths and horror stories and to be prepared for total strangers to want to touch their bellies,” said Schenk. Some women, according to Schenk, are very relaxed about their pregnancies, while others are anxious and have a lot of questions. “Just keep the lines of communication open with your doctor and remember that no question is too silly to ask,” said Schenk. “Every pregnancy is different and special.”

Note: Dr. Schenk will be presenting a “Lunch & Learn” session on Healthy Pregnancy on Tuesday, May 22 from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at 20 South Market St. in downtown Cortez. Bring your lunch; beverages and dessert will be provided. The program is free.

Southwest Health Notes is a public service feature provided by Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez, Colorado. The information provided herein is not intended as patient-specific medical advice or as a substitute for consultation with your personal healthcare provider.

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