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12 Tips For a Healthy Pregnancy

1. Call to Schedule Your First Prenatal Medical Visit
If you conceived fairly easily and you’re in good general health, your first prenatal check-up will probably not be for several weeks. If you’re considered at high risk of problems, it may be sooner. At that first visit, your obstetrician, midwife, or family doctor will check your blood pressure, weigh you, figure out your due date, test for various infections that could harm your baby, do a urine analysis, monitor any previous health problems you might have, perform an internal pelvic exam, and do a Pap test, if you haven’t had one recently.

2. Let Your Fertility Specialist Know the Treatment Worked
If you’ve used assisted reproduction, your specialist will probably want to see you immediately. He or she may monitor the very earliest stage of your pregnancy. For instance, the infertility specialist may want to schedule an ultrasound to check on the baby’s development. He or she may also prescribe medications or hormone supplements, depending on the cause of your infertility. “In most IVF cases, there are specific medications which will be required through the initial period of pregnancy, the most common being progesterone supplementation,” says Lee C. Kao, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

3. Have Your Medications Checked Out
Certain medications taken by a mother can harm a developing fetus. For example, the acne drug Accutane, the psoriasis drugs Tegison and Soriatane, and several blood pressure medications can cause birth defects or low birth weight. Ideally, you should have spoken to your doctor before conceiving regarding any medications you take, but if you haven’t already done so, do it now. Don’t forget to mention any herbal supplements or megadoses of vitamins you take; some of these can cause pregnancy problems, too.

4. Start Taking a Daily Prenatal Vitamin Containing Folic Acid
Studies show that folic acid, a B vitamin, helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord if taken early in pregnancy, when the baby’s neural tube is developing. Begin taking a vitamin with folic acid as soon as you know you’re pregnant, or even better, start taking it while you’re trying to conceive and continue it throughout your pregnancy. These vitamins are available by prescription and over-the-counter. According to the March of Dimes, if all women took adequate folic acid supplementation—400 micrograms every day—starting before conception and continuing throughout the first several months of pregnancy, the number of babies born with a neural tube defect could drop by as much as 70 percent. Folic acid is also found in foods such as lentils, asparagus, spinach, black beans, peanuts, orange juice, enriched breads and pasta, romaine lettuce, and broccoli, but the best way to ensure that you’re getting enough is to take a supplement.

5. Pay Attention to How Much You Eat
You will need to eat for two, but that doesn’t mean you can load up on junk food. If you are at a normal weight when you conceive, you should gain between 25 and 35 pounds during pregnancy. That translates to about 300 extra calories a day—the equivalent of a glass of skim milk, a piece of fruit, and a slice of whole-wheat bread. (Calcium is more important than ever during pregnancy, so try to spend some of those extra calories on calcium-rich foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt.) If you are overweight prior to conception you should gain no more than 15 to 25 pounds, and if you are underweight, you should gain no less than 28 to 40 pounds.

6. Pay Attention to What You Eat
Certain foods can put your baby at risk. To be safe, avoid fish that may contain high levels of mercury (swordfish, shark king mackerel, and tilefish); eat no more than six ounces of albacore tuna per week; avoid raw fish, undercooked meat and eggs, and unpasturized cheese, fruit juice, and milk; eat sprouts only if they are cooked; and either stay away from cold cuts and hot dogs or make sure they’re cooked thoroughly before you eat them.

7. Cut Down on Caffeine
Excessive caffeine intake may increase the risk of miscarriage, so ingest no more than 300 mg of caffeine a day—the amount of caffeine found in approximately two 8-ounce cups of coffee or two cups of tea per day.

8. Eliminate Alcohol
Drinking during pregnancy can cause physical and mental birth defects. “We don’t know how much alcohol is harmful, so the best advice is to drink none at all,” advises Siobhan Dolan, M.D., assistant medical director of the March of Dimes.

9. Stop Smoking and Using Recreational Drugs
They put your baby at risk for birth defects, premature birth, and death.

10. Use Caution Around Chemicals
Avoid solvents, paints, paint thinners, pesticides, and chemicals such as mercury, benzene, and formaldehyde, which can cause birth defects or miscarriage. And stay away from the cat’s litter box to avoid exposure to toxoplasmosis.

11. Get an OK for Exercise
If you exercised before conceiving, it’s probably fine for you to continue the same exercise program—but be sure to check with your doctor first in case you have special medical problems that preclude exercise. If you are otherwise healthy, your doctor will probably give you the thumbs-up to keep walking, jogging, swimming, doing yoga, taking low-impact aerobics classes, or doing other moderate exercise. If you’ve been sedentary, however, now’s not the time to take up a vigorous new sport. Ease into exercise with short walks or gentle yoga, provided your doctor approves.

12. Use Your Own Good Judgment
If you’re worried that something you do might cause a miscarriage, even if your doctor says it won’t—jogging, for example, or drinking coffee with breakfast—then don’t do it. “You need to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I did everything I could to sustain this pregnancy,’” says Gilbert Haas, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at the Center for Reproductive Health in Oklahoma City. “Even if it’s not a high-risk pregnancy, it is a precious pregnancy. You need to be able to not blame yourself if something goes wrong.”

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This article was originally published in the Premiere Issue of Conceive Magazine.