Part of this early time of celebration of your new pregnant state includes taking stock of your lifestyle. Are you living a life that is compatible with the growth of a new human being? Are there changes you need to make?
Most women start by questioning their health practices. Many worry about what they may have done in the weeks just prior to finding out they were pregnant.
It’s important not to get too hung up on what you’ve done before this moment. You can’t change the past, but you can start to take care of yourself and your baby now. It is best to approach this from a place of love for your body and the developing body of your baby, rather than one of fearfulness.
Tobacco, caffeine, and alcohol habits are areas to look at first. These substances can have a big effect on the health of pregnant women, but even more on the health of their developing babies because the first trimester of pregnancy is an explosion of growth for the fetus.
The effects of caffeine on pregnancy have been well-documented. Consuming it at a rate of only two cups of regular caffeinated coffee per day may double your chances of miscarriage. It can alter the baby’s heart rate and depress respiration, an effect that can last into childhood. There are also some preliminary studies that suggest heavy coffee drinkers (four cups per day or more) may increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Aside from this, caffeine consumption can affect the quality of your sleep and increase heartburn, which are already common problem areas for pregnant women.
Pregnancy and tobacco just don’t go together. Nicotine from your bloodstream will pass into the baby’s bloodstream. This speeds up his heart rate and interrupts his respiratory movements. Nicotine will also constrict blood vessels in the placenta so less oxygen and nutrients can reach your baby. Mothers who smoke typically have babies who weigh less, are premature, or experience other birth complications.
Newly pregnant women usually have questions about alcohol consumption. Research has shown that excessive drinking during pregnancy can result in fetal alcohol syndrome.The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists defines excessive drinking as two or more drinks on a daily basis or binge drinking–more than three drinks on one occasion. A baby born with fetal alcohol syndrome may have abnormal facial features, heart defects, clubfoot, low weight, or other problems. There is, however, no research that has studied the effects of mild or moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Ultimately each woman must make her own decisions about this issue.
Next, consider whether there are other substances that may be problematic in your life.
It makes sense to avoid using all recreational drugs during pregnancy. Some drugs, such as cocaine, can seriously damage the developing embryo after even a single use. Other drugs, such as marijuana, have not been shown to be harmful to a fetus—and many have not been studied at all.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite often found in the feces of cats. It is best to avoid changing litter or gardening without gloves. It can also be found in undercooked meats or unwashed fruits and vegetables. This infection can lead to miscarriage, birth defects and premature birth. About 30 percent of people in the US have developed immunity to toxoplasmosis, and you can ask your practitioner for a blood test to see if you are among them. It is important, however, to have been immune for at least six to nine months prior to getting pregnant. So, if your blood test shows that you do have immunity, you will need a second test to determine how long you have had this.
Listeriosis is a bacteria found in soft foods that have not been stored at sufficiently low temperatures. Avoid soft and unpasteurized cheeses and pates.
It can be hard to know what environmental factors are truly hazardous, and research in some of these areas is incomplete. Areas that are very well documented, however, include second-hand smoke and x-rays. These should be completely avoided. It is also wise to avoid paint fumes, nail polish fumes, hair dye, dental amalgam and food additives and preservatives. Research also indicates that women with a family history of allergic reactions should completely avoid eating peanuts while pregnant or breastfeeding, as this can actually sensitize a fetus to create a future, potentially severe food allergy.
Check with your care provider about taking any medications at all during pregnancy. New medicines are constantly being developed and it can be hard to know which of these are safe for use when pregnant. Aspirin, white willow bark, ibuprofen and naproxen should not be used. Most care providers will recommend acetaminophen if pain relief is absolutely necessary.
Tranquilizers and sleeping pills should also not be used during pregnancy. The use of antibiotics, antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs should all be carefully prescribed and monitored by a qualified medical care provider during pregnancy.
While natural remedies and treatments can be very helpful for many aspects of pregnancy and birth, there are some that should not be used. Find out which essential oils and which herbs are best avoided during pregnancy.
The fact that you are avoiding potential harmful substances does not mean that the world is an inherently dangerous place for your developing baby. Rather, this is a wonderful opportunity to take stock of your health and possibly make improvements you have wanted to make for a long time.