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Monday

Healthy Pregnancy, Healthy Baby

Worries and pregnancy seem to go hand in hand. Fortunately, however, most women of childbearing age are healthy and most pregnancies are considered "low-risk." For most women, the surest way to have a healthy baby is to live a healthy lifestyle. The March of Dimes suggests the following precautions:
  • Get early prenatal care, even before you're pregnant.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet, including a vitamin supplement that contains folic acid.
  • Exercise regularly with your doctor's permission.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs, and limit caffeine.
  • Avoid x-rays, hot tubs, and saunas.
  • Avoid infections.

Getting Good Care for best baby

When it comes to medical care and pregnancy, you can never start too early.

"The best start to having a healthy baby is to see your health-care provider before you conceive," says Richard Schwarz, M.D., an obstetrician and national consultant for the March of Dimes.

"There are lots of things you can do ahead of time."You can make sure you're immune to rubella [German measles], you can know your blood type, you can stop smoking and make sure your diet is healthy, and you can get any illnesses you might have under control."

Once you're pregnant, your health professional--either an obstetrician, family practitioner, nurse-practitioner, or nurse-midwife--will have you begin with monthly visits that increase to once a week or more at the end.

At each visit, the physician or nurse will perform a series of examinations and tests to determine the health of the mother and baby. These include measuring the growth of the uterus, listening to the baby's heartbeat, taking the mother's blood pressure and weight, and checking her urine for evidence of protein or sugar, which could be symptoms of complications. The care provider will ask the mother if she has any concerns or problems such as blurred vision, leg cramps, abdominal cramps, or unusual headaches. The mother may also undergo ultrasound and genetic tests during the pregnancy.

Although prenatal visits may seem simple and even mundane, their importance can't be overestimated. Years of research have shown that pregnant women who get adequate prenatal care are more likely to have healthy babies and fewer complications during labor and recovery. "We know that pregnancy outcomes are better in women with early prenatal care."

Eating for Two

Good nutrition is another crucial step in having a healthy baby. A pregnancy takes about 300 extra calories a day to maintain, and an average-sized woman can expect to gain between 25 and 35 pounds overall.

Those extra calories should be nutritious ones, however. A pregnant woman needs a balanced diet complete with protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and a minimum of sweets and fats.

"Good nutrition is extremely important even before a pregnancy," says Shirley Blakely, Ph.D., a registered dietitian with the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "If nature favors the growing fetus, the mother will suffer if she hasn't had a good diet."

According to the March of Dimes, a pregnant woman should increase her daily food portions to include:

  • 6 to 11 servings of breads and other whole grains
  • 3 to 5 servings of vegetables
  • 2 to 4 servings of fruits
  • 4 to 6 servings of milk and milk products
  • 3 to 4 servings of meat and protein foods
  • 6 to 8 glasses of water, and no more than one soft drink or cup of coffee per day to limit caffeine.

Some nutrients have been found to provide specific benefit to mother or child. For example, the B vitamins have been found to be especially important. One of them, folate, or its synthetic form, folic acid, can reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, called the "neural tube."

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