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Optimizing Your Chances for a Healthy Pregnancy
All women deserve healthy pregnancies and it would be wonderful if every pregnant woman could be ensured a perfect outcome. Unfortunately, even with the best of care, a small percentage of pregnancies develop difficulties.

Many pregnant women ask me what they can do to have a successful outcome. While I can’t offer a magic guarantee, here are a number of things you can do to optimize your chances of having a healthy pregnancy:

Establish Regular Prenatal Care
  • Schedule a preconception visit if you are not already pregnant. Your health care provider can identify any past or current health concerns that could put your pregnancy at risk and help you attain optimal health before you conceive. You could get appropriate immunizations, and be tested to identify infections that require treatment before pregnancy.
  • If you already have a medical condition, such as diabetes, or use any medication, the need for medical consultation before you conceive is essential.
  • Begin prenatal care as soon as you are pregnant. Find a doctor or midwife who answers your questions thoroughly. Keep all scheduled appointments and be sure to do your screening tests at the time they are recommended.

Control What You Consume…
  • Don’t take any medication or herbal supplements that haven’t been cleared by your doctor. Do begin taking a daily prenatal vitamin that contains at least 400 milligrams of folic acid. This will lower the risk of birth defects in your baby.
  • Eat nutritious meals and drink water throughout the day to ensure adequate growth of your baby. Aim for a balanced diet consisting of protein, whole grains and cereals, dairy, fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid uncooked meats, eggs and seafood to avoid gastrointestinal infections. Don’t consume unpasteurized milk products and soft cheeses to avoid Listeria, a serious infection during pregnancy. And avoid the following seafood: shark, king mackerel swordfish, and tilefish; these may be contaminated with mercury. Limit tuna and canned fish to 6 ounces a week for the same reason.
  • Discontinue any use of alcohol, cigarettes and illicit drugs. Each of these products has been associated with problems in pregnancy.

Stay Fit
  • Exercise regularly (with your doctor’s permission) at moderate intensity to maintain a healthy heart, back and mood. Avoid high impact activities and sudden changes in direction that could put strain on your joints, and try to include at least 30 minutes of activity a day.

Protect Yourself
  • Wear seatbelts while driving. Place your lap belt below your belly on your thighs and your shoulder belt above your pregnant uterus, between your breasts and below your neck.
  • Learn the warning signs of preterm labor (see my article “Warning Signs of Preterm Labor”, on this web site) to reduce your chances for a premature delivery. Notify your doctor for repeated contractions, leaking vaginal fluid, or bleeding.
  • Obtain a flu shot during flu season if you are more than 14 weeks pregnant.
  • If you have a cat, learn ways to avoid toxoplasmosis such as using gloves and washing your hands after gardening and changing the litter box.
  • Avoid exposure to hazardous chemicals at home and at work. This includes cleaning solvents, pesticides, noxious fumes, heavy metals and ionizing radiation (such as x-rays).

Be An Informed Consumer
  • Learn about pregnancy by reading, watching a video or taking childbirth education classes. Take a breastfeeding class before your delivery.
  • Ask your doctor questions when they arise, and be willing to speak up when you don’t understand something. Having healthy pregnancy is your best strategy for having a healthy baby.
Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist