When Rebecca Brandt's home pregnancy test came out positive, one of the first things she did was call her ob-gyn to schedule an appointment for the next day. "I couldn't wait to confirm the results, and I already had a lot of questions about diet, exercise, and whether it would be safe to take over-the-counter medicines," says the Portland, Oregon, mom, whose daughter was born 15 months ago. But to Brandt's surprise, her doctor wasn't in nearly the rush that she was; she was told that he wouldn't need to see her for another two weeks, when she'd already be two months into the pregnancy. "I asked the nurse if she at least had some guidelines to send me, but she had nothing. So I just stopped taking Advil for my occasional back pain and hoped for the best," says Brandt.
Indeed, many doctors wait to see moms-to-be until 8 or even 12 weeks into a pregnancy. Why not sooner? Home pregnancy tests are extremely reliable; also, before two months there's no fetal heartbeat and it's too early to do an accurate pelvic exam. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't start taking steps now to make your pregnancy - and the months following it - as healthy and seamless as possible.
Here's what you need to know and do as soon as you discover there's a baby on the way.
If there was ever a time to eat right, it's in the first weeks of pregnancy. This is when a baby's bones, organs, and nervous system begin to form, and a well-balanced diet helps them develop properly, according to Marcos Pupkin, M.D., chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Mercy Medical Center, in Baltimore. One way you can help yourself to the right mix of nutrients: Take prenatal vitamins. Your doctor can recommend a brand to you over the phone before your exam. If morning sickness is making you feel too queasy to stomach them, try taking them at a different time of day when you're feeling better.
But if you haven't taken any prenatal vitamins or paid attention to your diet until now, don't panic. "Most babies are born healthy even when Mom hasn't been sticking to a strict regimen," says Andrew Rubenstein, M.D., assistant clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center, in New Jersey.
Now and throughout the pregnancy, here's what to aim for in the foods you eat:
Protein 60 grams per day. That's one 4-ounce serving of cooked poultry, meat, or fish (about the size of your palm), two tablespoons of peanut butter, and three 8-ounce servings of milk or yogurt.
When I was pregnant, I munched on shelled sunflower seeds that I kept at my desk (one-quarter cup has eight grams of protein). Bonus: They settled my stomach.
Calcium At least 1,000 milligrams per day. Three to four servings of dairy products should do it. One serving is eight ounces of milk or yogurt, one ounce of hard cheese (such as cheddar or swiss), or one cup of yogurt.
Complex carbohydrates Six servings of fruits and veggies and at least six servings of breads, cereals, rice, or pasta per day. One serving of produce can be a cup of raw leafy greens, a half cup of cooked fruits or vegetables, one medium-size piece of fruit, or a half cup of juice. A slice of bread, a cup of cereal, or a half cup of cooked rice or pasta counts as one serving of grains.
Folate (or folic acid) At least 400 micrograms per day. One bowl of Cheerios provides 50 percent of what you need. Other good sources of this nutrient are enriched grain products, orange juice, and spinach.
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