Now that you are pregnant it is more important than ever that you take care of yourself. Below you will find information on how to take care of your health and the health of your baby.
Prenatal Health Care
The key to protecting your baby’s health is to have regular prenatal checkups. If you think you may be pregnant, make your first prenatal appointment with your health care provider. Many health care professionals will not allow you to make your first appointment before 8 weeks of pregnancy unless there is a problem.
At your first prenatal exam, the health care provider you have chosen will probably do a pregnancy test and estimate how many weeks you are based on the physical exam and the date of your last period. He or she will use this information to predict the approximate date of delivery (however, the ultrasound scan you will have later in your pregnancy will help confirm that date).
If you are healthy and there are no risk factors that could complicate the pregnancy, prenatal screening will probably be enough:
- every four weeks until the 28th week of pregnancy
- every two weeks thereafter until the 36th week of pregnancy
- and then once a week until delivery
Throughout your pregnancy, the health care provider who oversees your pregnancy will weigh you and take your blood pressure while assessing the baby’s growth and development (palpating your abdomen, measuring your belly and listening to your baby’s heartbeat beginning in the second trimester).
Throughout your pregnancy, you’ll also have several prenatal diagnostic tests, including blood and urine tests, cervical scans and probably at least one ultrasound.
If you have not yet chosen a health care professional to counsel and treat you during your pregnancy, there are several possible options:
- Obstetricians / gynecologists (doctors specializing in pregnancy and childbirth, apart from the female reproductive section and women’s health in general).
- Family doctors (doctors who offer a wide range of services to patients of all ages – sometimes including obstetrics).
- Registered nurse-midwives (nurses who specialize in the health needs of pregnant women, including prenatal care and care during labor and delivery, as well as postpartum care in uncomplicated pregnancies) There are also other types of midwives, but you should always choose one who can prove her training and who specializes in this field.
Any of these options may be a good choice if you are healthy and there is no reason to anticipate possible complications during your pregnancy. However, nurse-midwives should have access to a doctor in case unexpected problems arise during delivery or a C-section must be performed.
Nutrition and Supplements
Now that you’re eating for two (or more!), it’s not the best time to skimp on calories or go on a diet. In fact, just the opposite is true – you need about 300 calories a day more, especially when your pregnancy is quite far along and the baby is growing faster. If you’re very thin, very active or expecting several babies, you’ll need to take in even more calories. But, if you are overweight, your doctor may recommend that you not increase your calorie intake as much.
Eating healthy is always important, especially during pregnancy. So make sure your calories come from nutritious foods that will help your baby grow and develop.
Try to follow a balanced diet that incorporates the following foods
- lean meat
- Wholemeal bread
- low-fat dairy products
By following a healthy, balanced diet, you are more likely to get the nutrients you need. But you will need more of the essential nutrients (especially calcium, iron and folic acid) than you did before you became pregnant. Your health care provider who is monitoring your pregnancy will prescribe prenatal vitamins to make sure you and your growing baby are eating well.
However, taking prenatal vitamins does not mean you can eat an unbalanced diet. It is important to remember to eat well during pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins are supplements to complete your diet, not the only source of these much-needed nutrients.
Most women aged nineteen and older-including those who are pregnant-do not usually get the recommended 1,000 mg of calcium daily. Because a growing baby’s calcium requirements are high, you should increase your calcium intake to prevent bone decalcification. The prenatal vitamin supplement prescribed by your doctor will probably contain calcium.
Good sources of calcium include
- low-fat dairy products, including milk, pasteurized cheese and yogurt
- calcium-enriched products, such as many commercially available orange juices, soy milk and cereals
- dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and broccoli
- the tofu
- the dried beans
- the almonds
Pregnant women need to take in about 30 mg of iron every day. Why? Because iron is needed to make hemoglobin, the component of red blood cells that carries oxygen. Red blood cells circulate throughout the body to carry oxygen to all cells.
If a person does not have enough iron, their body will not be able to make enough red blood cells and their tissues and organs will not receive the oxygen they need to function properly. That’s why it’s especially important for pregnant women to get enough iron through their diet, both for their health and for their babies’ health is a developmental process.