Q. My husband was just laid off and money is kind of tight. Now, I just found out I'm pregnant. How long can you go without seeing a doctor?
A. Early prenatal care is very important for having a healthy pregnancy. Try to be checked by a healthcare provider within the first six weeks of your pregnancy. The sooner, the better. These visits are more than just a checkup: You will receive important counseling on proper nutrition during your pregnancy. You'll also get a prescription for prenatal vitamin supplements. Of course, the checkup is important too, to see if you and your baby have special medical needs.
Pregnancy is the time when you and your baby need medical care the most. That's why there are so many government-sponsored resources available to pregnant women. The best place to start looking for help is your local Department of Health. Call and ask about qualifications for Medicaid and other assistance programs for pregnant mothers. Since your income is low right now, you will probably qualify for state-assisted medical care throughout your pregnancy and delivery. You should also look in the phonebook for free prenatal clinics in your area.
There are a lot of other things you can do for self-care during your pregnancy, and they are very economical:
Read all about it. Get a copy of The Pregnancy Book written by Martha, myself, and obstetrician Dr. Linda Holt (Little, Brown). This is a month-by-month guide that tells you everything you need to know about taking proper care of yourself throughout your pregnancy. You will find lots of information to increase your chances of having a safe and satisfying delivery. See if it's available at your local library or if you can borrow it from a friend.
Create a healthy womb environment. Refrain from smoking, excessive alcohol, and drugs or medications that are not prescribed by your doctor. Eat right for two. You will need an extra 300 to 500 calories and 25 grams of protein per day. Stick to nutrient-dense foods -- those that pack a lot of nutrition with fewer calories -- such as grains, lowfat yogurt, cottage cheese, tofu, salmon, eggs, vegetables, and lean meat. Avoid sugar and corn syrup-sweetened beverages. Stay away from packaged carbs that do not also contain fiber and protein. In fact, the fewer packages and boxes you open during your pregnancy, the better your nutrition will be. During your pregnancy, you'll feel more comfortable eating frequent, nutritious, mini-meals throughout the day rather than three big meals.
Take your vitamins. In addition to the daily increase in calories, you need 800 milligrams of extra calcium, 0.4 milligrams of extra folic acid, and lots of extra iron and other minerals. As a nutritional insurance policy, take a prenatal vitamin, which contains the extra vitamins and minerals you will need throughout your pregnancy. I also recommend you add omega-3 fats to your diet. A great way to do this is to eat four ounces of salmon three times a week. Of if you're not a fish-lover, take a daily supplement that contains 200 milligrams DHA -- the most vital omega-3 fat for your baby -- DHA.
Keep fit. Mothers who keep physically fit during pregnancy are more likely to grow a healthier baby and have an easier delivery. Take a brisk walk for at least 45 minutes a day during the first half of your pregnancy. During the second half, swimming is the safest all-around exercise, since it's easiest on your joints.
By following these self-help medical tips, you will greatly increase your chances of enjoying a healthy pregnancy and delivering a healthy baby. And just think, to skip prenatal care may turn out to be much more costly.