Every year, around 34 million babies are born in the U.S. While having a healthy pregnancy and baby is a magical time, it’s not always the trouble-free event moms and dads hope for. Almost 3.4 million babies annually are born pre-term, and 324,000 have low birth weight. It’s estimated that about 15 percent of American babies have developmental problems such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, intellectual disability, vision impairment, etc. Fortunately, there’s a great deal you can do, even in advance of conception, to assure a healthier pregnancy and a healthier newborn.
Your most important step is good prenatal care, so:
▪ Plan ahead. Take prenatal vitamins that include 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid and at least 200 milligrams of DHA daily for the three months before you become pregnant and while pregnant and nursing.
▪ Set up regular doctor appointments through your pregnancy, and keep them. The recommended schedule: Once a month for weeks 4 through 28; twice a month for weeks 28 through 36; once a week for weeks 36 to birth. Women older than 35 or at high risk will see the doctor more often. Waiting until the beginning of the third trimester or receiving no prenatal care increases the risk that your baby will have health problems — and no prenatal care at all causes a five-time increase in the risk that the baby won’t survive.
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▪ Give your doctor the facts: If you have a medical condition, work together to control it. Tell your doctor about any over-the-counter, herbal and prescription medicines you use.
▪ Avoid hazards. Stay away from chemicals such as pesticides and cat or rodent feces. Don’t handle receipts with hormone-disrupting BPAs; avoid phthalates and any plastics with the recycling numbers 1, 3, 6 and 7.
▪ Get checked for gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. One study looked at 89,000 pregnant women who developed pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure) and found that it increases the risk of pregnancy-related stroke. Any sign of stroke AFTER the baby is born, such as a severe headache, should be taken very seriously.
▪ If you are overweight, lose weight before getting pregnant. If you are underweight, talk to your doctor about achieving a healthier weight before getting pregnant. In 2014 almost 4 percent of pregnant women were underweight, around 26 percent were overweight and 25 percent were obese. Being pregnant and obese increases risk for gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, infection, overdue pregnancy, labor problems, cesarean section and pregnancy loss. Being underweight increases the odds of delivering early and the child being underweight. In addition, being overweight while pregnant may mean that your child will be programmed in utero to become overweight and be at increased risk for heart disease, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes later in life.
▪ Aim for a healthy weight gain while pregnant. The Institute of Medicine guidelines say that underweight women should gain from 28 to 40 pounds during pregnancy; normal-weight women, 25 to 35; overweight women, 15 to 25; obese women 11 to 20 pounds.
▪ Make sure your vaccinations are up to date, including the flu shot before you get pregnant.
▪ Upgrade your nutrition. Eliminate the Five Food Felons (added sugars and syrups, refined grains, all trans and most sat fats) to achieve a healthy weight and healthy weight gain while pregnant. A new study found that moms with gestational diabetes who eat refined grains while pregnant increase the risk of their child becoming obese by age 7. We’re betting that’s true even if you don’t have gestational diabetes.
▪ Not one drop of alcohol! A study in JAMA Pediatrics found fetal exposure to even low levels of alcohol can affect facial features, including the nose, chin and eyes, when evaluated at one year of age (also a characteristic of fetal alcohol syndrome).
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit www.sharecare.com.