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You’ll be seeing your obstetrician, midwife, or other prenatal care specialist very regularly over the next nine months. But how do you know when to call the doctor between prenatal checkups? What’s normal and what’s not? If you’re pregnant and experience any of the following symptoms, call your health care provider immediately:
Unusual or severe cramping or abdominal pain
Significant reduction in the baby’s movements after 28 weeks (less than 10 movements in a 2-hour period)
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Any bleeding in the second or third trimester
Signs of premature labor, such as regular pains or tightening in the lower back or abdomen or significant fluid discharge
Pain or cramping in the arms, legs, or chest
Fever over 100 Fahrenheit (37.5 Centigrade)
Severe or persistent diarrhea or vomiting
Fainting spells or dizziness
Blurred vision or spots in front of your eyes
Swelling in your hands, fingers, or face
While pregnant, you’re eating for two, as the old saying goes — but just what are you two supposed to be eating?
Get all essential vitamins and minerals daily.
That means sticking with the prenatal vitamins you started prior to becoming pregnant, as well as eating a healthy diet.
Fill your plate with leafy greens, fruits, veggies, and whole grains (like wheat breads and cereals).
Get plenty of calcium-rich foods like broccoli and low-fat milk and yogurt, to help build your baby’s bones and teeth.
Stick to lean meats like chicken and turkey.
Foods to avoid during pregnancy include: Fish with lots of mercury. High levels of mercury can damage a baby’s developing brain. But don’t cut out fish completely — they give you important omega-3 fatty acids. Cut out fish like swordfish, tilefish, and shark. If you love your tuna and snapper, you can still eat it — just cut back to no more than one serving a week. You can eat up to two servings of fish like salmon, catfish, mahi mahi, and cod, along with shellfish like shrimp, crab, and scallops. For a more detailed list of fish and their mercury levels, go HERE. Raw fish. Sorry, sushi and sashimi lovers.
Unpasteurized soft cheeses like brie, Camembert, feta, gorgonzola, and Roquefort. They may contain bacteria called listeria that can cross the placenta, potentially causing miscarriage or leading to a life-threatening infection.
Unpasteurized milk, which can also contain listeria.
Cold ready-to-eat meats, like hot dogs and luncheon meats; these can also contain listeria. Reheat these foods until they are steaming.
Uncooked or cured eggs and meats, like prosciutto, runny eggs, and sauces made with raw eggs (like some hollandaises).
Alcohol. There is no known safe level of exposure to alcohol for a fetus. Prenatal exposure to alcohol can interfere with healthy development and lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, one of the most common causes of mental retardation and the only one that is completely preventable.
Caffeine. While some studies show that moderate caffeine intake during pregnancy is OK, others have found a link to miscarriage, so it’s particularly important to steer clear of caffeine during the first trimester. Large amounts of caffeine have been linked to premature birth and low birth weight, so do your best to switch to decaf. If you can’t cut it out entirely, limit intake to 300 milligrams per day or less (1-2 cups of coffee).
Answer: Do this. Don’t do that. Wait, no, do this! Don’t do that! It seems that the list of things you should and shouldn’t do in pregnancy just keeps getting longer. Here are some key dos and don’ts:
Exercise. Light to moderate exercise during pregnancy is good for you, strengthening your back and abdominal muscles, improving your balance and helping to speed your recovery after delivery. (See more about this in question 4 below.)
Have sex. Unless you have a high-risk pregnancy and your doctor has advised you against it, sex during pregnancy is safe. The baby is cushioned by your amniotic fluid. Especially in later pregnancy, though, avoid lying flat on your back during sex; the uterus can compress the veins in the back of your abdomen and leave you lightheaded or nauseous.
Wash your hands before preparing food, before meals, after handling raw meats, and after using the bathroom.
Clean house. Sorry, most household cleaning products, including bleach, are safe for use during pregnancy. Just be sure the room is well ventilated, read warning labels, and avoid mixing chemicals (like ammonia and bleach) — good advice for cleaning safety whether you’re pregnant or not.
Travel by airplane — sometimes. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that the second trimester is the safest time for air travel, when you’re at the lowest risk of miscarriage or premature labor. Generally, if you have a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy, there’s no special risk posed by commercial air travel. (ACOG recommends that pregnant women stop flying at 36 weeks’ gestation.) Be sure to stay hydrated during the flight by drinking plenty of fluids, and keep your seat belt on! And no matter whether you’re traveling by car, train, bus or plane, get up and move around every so often, and be sure to stretch your legs and back.
See your dentist. Preventive cleanings and annual exams are a very good idea during pregnancy, as your rising hormone levels can cause bleeding gums and irritation. Since gum infections have been associated with preterm births, keeping your mouth healthy is important.
Change the cat’s litter box. No, this isn’t just an excuse to get out of an icky task; cat feces can transmit an infection called toxoplasmosis, which can lead to severe problems in newborns, including low birth weight, jaundice, mental retardation, and convulsions.
Use saunas, hot tubs, and tanning booths. Excessive heat can be harmful to the baby, and has been linked to spinal malformations.
Paint. Let somebody else paint the baby’s room; pregnant women shouldn’t be exposed to toxic substances and chemicals, which include paint and cleaning solvents.
Get an X-ray. Unless you absolutely have to, avoid tests like X-rays and mammograms while pregnant, because they can be dangerous to your growing baby. If you absolutely must have an X-ray, make sure that your doctor or dentist knows you are pregnant so they can take extra precautions.
Ride the Great American Scream Machine or the Tower of Terror. Though no studies have been done to document this, there is concern that the rapid stops and jarring forces of rides like this could cause placental abruption (premature separation of the placenta from the uterine wall). Play it safe and stick to the Ferris wheel until the baby’s born.
Exercise during pregnancy is generally considered safe for most healthy women and can even relieve some of the discomforts of pregnancy. Some forms of exercise that are particularly good for pregnant women are walking, swimming, stationary cycling, and yoga.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that you focus on non-weight-bearing activities and those that don’t require an enormous amount of balance (so some of those extremely challenging yoga postures may be out until postpartum).
Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing while exercising, get plenty of fluids, and don’t work to the point of exhaustion. When you reach your second and third trimesters, don’t do exercises that require lying on your back, and never do workouts that pose a risk of trauma to your abdomen while pregnant. And always be sure to check with your doctor about any exercise program before getting started. Some women — such as those with preeclampsia, preterm labor, and hypertension or heart disease — may be advised not to exercise or to pursue very limited physical activities while pregnant.
Pregnancy doesn’t equal a get-out-of-jail-free card for a caloric spending spree. Weight gain during pregnancy is a lot like Goldilocks and the Three Bears: you don’t want too much, you don’t want too little — you want “just right.” If you gain too much weight, you’re at risk for conditions like gestational diabetes; too little, and your baby may be born at a low birth weight.
What’s “just right” for you? If you’re at a normal weight before pregnancy, gain between 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. If you are overweight before pregnancy, gain 15 to 25 pounds. If you are underweight prior to pregnancy, gain 28 to 40 pounds. For multiple births, consult your doctor (usually, you should gain about 35 to 45 pounds for twins). The average woman should gain about 2 to 4 pounds during her first three months of pregnancy, and 1 pound a week for the remainder of her pregnancy.
Depression during or after pregnancy is perfectly normal. In fact, researchers believe it’s one of the most common complications associated with pregnancy. It’s thought to be caused by a combination of the fluctuating hormone levels associated with giving birth, the major transition to parenthood (or to having more than one child), and other life stresses that accompany pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting.
If you have other major stressors affecting your life at the same time, or if you’ve been prone to depression in the past, you may be particularly vulnerable to postpartum depression. Symptoms can include feeling sad and hopeless; crying often; withdrawing from friends and family; eating or sleeping too little or too much; feeling worthless or guilty; and even being afraid of hurting yourself or the baby.
Many new mothers — as many as 80%, according to the National Mental Health Association — experience the “baby blues” right after delivery, and these relatively mild symptoms (mood swings, crying spells, irritability) can go away within a few days to a few weeks. Treatment isn’t necessarily needed, but support can be invaluable. Try seeking out new-mom support groups through the hospital or birthing center where you delivered.