What is prenatal care and why is it important?
Maintaining the health of the woman during pregnancy is the best way to promote a smooth labor, and the health of the baby. Getting regular prenatal care can improve the chances of a healthy pregnancy. Prenatal care begins even before the conception and includes the preconception care visit to the healthcare practitioner.
What are the complications that can be avoided by taking proper prenatal care?
Women may develop a consistently high blood sugar level during pregnancy. This condition is called gestational diabetes. A screening test called a glucose tolerance test during the 24th or 26th weeks of pregnancy during prenatal care visits can help to detect this condition. The symptoms of gestational diabetes include extreme thirst, excessive hunger, and unusual fatigue. It may cause complications during labor such as high birth weight baby, preterm labor, jaundice, and hypoglycemia in the baby. The doctor may prescribe medications for controlling the blood sugar levels and recommend a healthy diet to prevent these complications.
Preeclampsia and High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure during pregnancy can cause serious complications such as preeclampsia or eclampsia. Hence, women are advised to have regular prenatal care visits to help detect the changes in the blood pressure before any complications arise. The risk of hypertension during pregnancy is higher in the women who are obese or have a history of high blood pressure or preeclampsia. The symptoms of hypertension and preeclampsia include:
- • Frequent headaches
- • Dizziness
- • Swelling in the hands and face
- • Blurred vision
- • Presence of proteins in the urine
- • Stomach pain
Hyperemesis Gravidarum is the common complication usually occurring in the first trimester of pregnancy. Nausea and vomiting are the common symptoms in the first trimester of pregnancy. However, some women may experience intense morning sickness due to the rising levels of hormones, estrogen and human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), resulting in Hyperemesis Gravidarum that is characterized by severe vomiting and nausea. The risk factors for this condition include:
- • Obesity
- • History of Hyperemesis Gravidarum
- • Being pregnant with twins
An uncontrolled Hyperemesis Gravidarum can result in severe dehydration, malnourishment, and even unconsciousness. During prenatal visits, the doctor may prescribe medications to control the symptoms of this condition.
Some other complications that can be detected, treated, and prevented with proper prenatal care include:
- • Iron deficiency anemia
- • Miscarriage
- • Preterm Labor
What are the indications of prenatal care?
During prenatal care visits, the doctor can advise the women about the medications and supplements to be taken, the symptoms to watch out for, the foods to eat and the exercises that can be performed safely.
Medictions and Supplements
Most medications, including antibiotics, steroidal medications, and even some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are contraindicated during pregnancy. Hence, pregnant women must consult a physician in case they suffer from any infection, or pain before taking any medication.
Women, who are suffering from any disease, should inform the doctors during the prenatal care visits so that he can recommend a change in the medication that is effective as well as safe to be taken during pregnancy.
The doctor may also prescribe medications for the specific symptoms you may develop during the pregnancy such as morning sickness and back pain.
Women are commonly prescribed iron and folic acid supplements during the prenatal care visits to meet the increased demand of the body for these nutrients.
Women have to undergo several diagnostic tests like blood and urine test, and ultrasonography to ensure the pregnancy is running smoothly and detect the abnormalities at an early stage. Your first visit to the obstetrician should include a test to confirm the pregnancy and a full physical and pelvic examination. The blood tests recommended in the first trimester of pregnancy include:
- • The blood group and Rh factor
- • Hemoglobin and complete blood count
- • Tests for the sexually transmitted diseases like hepatitis B, syphilis, and HIV
- • Urine test
In addition to this, the women may be advised ultrasonography at regular intervals to monitor the growth of the baby and genetic screening or amniocentesis to detect chromosomal anomalies and birth defects.
Dietary advice during prenatal care visits
Eating a balanced diet is important for the health of the mother and the fetus. During prenatal visits, women can consult the doctor about the diet they should follow and the foods to eat or avoid. They should avoid meat, fish, and eggs that are not fully cooked. They should also eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid foods that can worsen morning sickness such as fried and fatty foods.
Symptoms to watch out for
Prenatal care visits give the pregnant women an opportunity to learn about the symptoms that could be a sign of a complication such as miscarriage, preterm labor, gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia. Here are the few dangerous symptoms of pregnancy the women should watch out for.
- • Bleeding from the vagina
- • Decline in the baby’s activity level
- • Severe cramps or pain in the middle of the abdomen
- • Leakage of fluid from the vagina
- • Swelling of the hands and feet
- • Itching all over the body
- • Having a fall with a blow on the belly
Seeking prompt treatment following the appearance of these symptoms can help to prevent worsening of the condition and assist in continuing with a healthy pregnancy.
Safe exercises in pregnancy
Pregnancy is the time to achieve a perfect balance between performing physical activities that can help to improve your overall health and stamina, while being safe. During prenatal visits, women can inform the doctor about the exercises they are performing on a regular basis and consult whether it would be safe to continue with the same exercises to ensure safe and healthy pregnancy. They can also ask the doctor about the pelvic exercises, also called Kegel exercises, which can help them have a smooth labor.
What are the contraindications for the prenatal care?
1. Foods that should not be eaten or consumed in moderation during pregnancy include:
- • Fish with mercury
- • Deli meat
- • Smoked seafood
- • Raw meat
- • Fish that were exposed to industrial pollutants
- • Raw eggs
- • Raw shellfish
- • Soft cheeses
Pregnant women should also avoid some beverages such as alcohol, caffeine, and unpasteurized milk.
2. Some physical activities, adventure sports, and exercises that are not safe for the health of the pregnant women and fetus include:
- • Amusement park rides
- • Bicycling
- • Contact sports like soccer, basketball, and hockey
- • Diving
- • Downhill skiing
- • Gymnastics
- • Hot tubs and saunas
- • Scuba diving
- • Waterskiing
Women should also avoid diagnostic procedures like X-rays
Alternative therapies like acupuncture and massage, especially to the abdominal region, should also be avoided during pregnancy.
Frequently asked question during prenatal care visits
[collapse title=”I am taking medications for a disease, should I continue taking them?”]
Some medications are known to cause side effects when used by a pregnant woman and affect the health of the baby. Hence, it is important to inform the doctor about the disorders you are suffering from and the medications you are taking for the same. Also, if you develop any symptoms during pregnancy, you should consult the doctor before taking any medicine, including the pain relievers or over-the-counter medicines.
[collapse title=”How long can I keep working?”]
Most women are able to maintain their focus on the career and continue working till the date of the delivery. However, this depends on your overall health, the diseases you may be suffering from, the kind of work you are doing and whether you’re exposed to anything at the workplace that could harm the fetus. However, it is important to take extra precautions while traveling to the workplace and managing the career to avoid accidental fall or undue stress.
[collapse title=”Can I exercise during pregnancy?”]
Yes, you can perform the non-impact exercises like walking, and stretches during pregnancy. Regular exercises cannot just help to prevent excess weight gain during pregnancy, but also help to ease the labor. However, it is advisable to consult a physician about the exercises that can be practiced safely without causing strain or pressure on the abdominal region. Also, they must stop their physical activities in case they experience any discomfort. Women, who didn’t exercise before the conception, should begin slowly.
[collapse title=”Is it okay to have sex?”]
Yes. In fact, most women experience an increase in their sex drive during pregnancy. You can try different positions, such as being on top or lying on your side, to avoid putting pressure on the abdomen during the performance. However, sexual activity is not advised in the high-risk pregnancies.
[collapse title=”How can I avoid morning sickness?”]
Morning sickness is a common symptom of pregnancy. It usually occurs in the first trimester. You can try eating frequent, small meals to avoid this symptom. You should also avoid greasy foods and eat dry snacks like crackers to prevent nausea and vomiting.
[collapse title=”I feel too tired and weak, what should I do?”]
Extreme tiredness during pregnancy can be a sign of anemia. You can take iron supplements and eat foods containing high amounts of iron to treat this problem. Tiredness may also be the result of lack of proper rest and sleep. Make sure you get enough rest and take a short nap during the daytime, if possible.
[collapse title=”I am tired of getting up again and again in the night for passing urine, why is this happening?”]
Urinating more often throughout the day, especially at night, can occur in the third trimester of pregnancy because of the pressure exerted by the growing baby on your urinary bladder. You can minimize the frequency of urination at night by limiting your fluid intake from 2 hours before going to bed.
[collapse title=”I get severe cramps in legs, what should I do to relieve it?”]
Leg cramps can occur in pregnant women due to the pressure of the enlarging fetus on the pelvic region through which the nerves pass to the legs. It can also occur due to dehydration when women reduce their water intake to avoid frequent bathroom visits. To relieve this symptom, gently stretch the calf muscles while curling the toes up, toward the knee. Also, make sure you are drinking enough water so prevent dehydration.
[collapse title=”How can I avoid constipation? Is it ok to take laxatives? “]
Constipation is the common symptom in the third trimester of pregnancy. It can be easily avoided by drinking plenty of fluids and eating foods containing fibers such as fruits, whole grains, and vegetables. Avoid taking laxatives without consulting your doctor. You may use stool softeners as they are considered safer than laxatives.
[collapse title=”Do I need to avoid alcohol completely? “]
Yes, it’s important to avoid alcohol consumption completely during pregnancy as well as breastfeeding. Although it seems harmless to have a glass of wine with dinner to begin with, you may find it difficult to know the “safe amount” of alcohol you can consume. Because of this uncertainty, it’s wise to be cautious and avoid drinking any alcohol beverage during pregnancy.
An excessive consumption of alcohol may lead to complications such as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). It can also increase the risk of physical, intellectual, and behavioral disabilities in the child. Also, the body of the fetus is unable to get rid of alcohol resulting in its accumulation in their body in a higher concentration for a longer period of time. So, a moderate alcohol intake, or even periodic binge drinking, can pose the risk of damage to the developing nervous system of the fetus.
[collapse title=”Should I avoid caffeine?”]
Yes. It’s advisable to limit your caffeine intake during pregnancy. Consumption of more than 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine per day, which amounts to about 2 to 3 cups of coffee, can increase the risk of miscarriage and, other pregnancy complications.
If you find it difficult to stop drinking the caffeinated beverages completely, you can cut down the consumption to one or two cups per day, initially, and then, gradually reduce the amount by combining regular coffee with decaffeinated coffee. Over a few weeks, you should be able to cut out the regular coffee completely.
In addition to coffee, you should also limit the intake of other caffeinated drinks such as black tea, cola, and soft drinks.
[collapse title=”Are recreational drugs safe during pregnancy?”]
No, recreational drugs can pose a high risk of miscarriage, birth defects, poor growth, preterm labor and other complications when consumed by a pregnant woman. It can also increase the risk of behavioral and learning problems in the baby. Hence, it’s extremely important to stop the use of recreational drugs during pregnancy.
[collapse title=”Can I consider smoking just one or two cigarettes per day?”]
No, smoking even a single cigarette can affect the health of the fetus. Pregnant women, who have been smoking, should quit the habit and avoid lighting even one cigarette. Smoking by the pregnant mother can cause the nicotine, carbon monoxide, and other harmful chemicals to be passed to the growing baby. It can cause complications like stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome.
Likewise, you should also avoid the people who are smoking as passive smoking can also cause harm to your baby.
[collapse title=”Is it safe to use artificial sweeteners? “]
Some artificial sweeteners are safe to be used during pregnancy. However, some sugar substitutes can be harmful for the health of the mother and the baby; hence, must be avoided. Aspartame, stevioside, sucralose, and acesulfame-K can be used in moderation by the pregnant women. However, the use of aspartame must be avoided if you or your partner suffer from phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare hereditary disease in which the body is unable to break down phenylalanine found in aspartame.
There is no evidence to prove the safety of saccharin during pregnancy. Research suggests that it can cross the placenta and stay in the body of the fetus thus increasing the risk of some complications. A sweetener called cyclamate is linked to the increased risk of cancer. Hence, women are advised to avoid saccharin and cyclamate during pregnancy.
[collapse title=”Should I avoid traveling or flying?”]
Long distance travel by road should be avoided as it may increase back pain and abdominal discomfort. It is advisable to avoid traveling to distant places when your due date is near or if you suffer from a medical condition that necessitates you keeping near home. Pregnant women suffering from high blood pressure, or having a history of miscarriage, and premature labor are encouraged to avoid flying.
[collapse title=”Is it safe to use hair dyes?”]
Yes. Since very little hair dye is absorbed through the scalp, dying the hair is considered safe during pregnancy.