The Baby Edit’s Pregnancy Guide
Pregnancy. Wow. It’s easy to take it for granted because it happens all the time, but when you think about it, pregnancy is an amazing process. The body grows a whole baby from a single cell, and it does so more or less on autopilot. You have very little control over pregnancy. This can be disconcerting, but it also means you have a surprisingly little amount of responsibility. There are just a few important tips to keep in mind before the real work starts after the baby arrives.
My Number One Pregnancy Secret
So yes, this pretty incredible thing happens on autopilot, but that certainly does not make it a walk in the park for mom. Hormone levels spike in order to direct the body to build a nourishing environment for the growing baby, leading to all sorts of side effects. The hormone levels are higher when carrying girls than boys, making symptoms more severe with girls.
The most common problems are UTIs and gastrointestinal issues, including the dreaded so-called “morning” sickness that is rarely confined to morning. Previously, it was thought that these symptoms were caused by things like bacterial infection and excess stomach acid. That’s technically correct, but recently, we’ve started to understand the underlying cause. When conditions are changed by stress or hormones — not just in pregnancy — bad bacteria tend to outgrow good bacteria in the stomach and urinary tract. For example, we now know that ulcers are caused by bad bacteria and not simply stress.
This leads me to my secret. Probiotics. The best way to help good bacteria take back their territory from the bad bacteria is to give them reinforcements. When I feel a bout of acid reflux or queasiness or a UTI coming on (whether or not I’m pregnant), I pop high-quality probiotics like candy, and it works wonders. Your doctor may not have heard of this yet and may therefore be skeptical, but there’s no harm in trying, and I think you’ll be impressed with the results. Along the same lines, ginger pills have also been shown to help reduce bad bacteria, and as you probably know, cranberry pills work well for combatting UTIs.
A Few No-Nos
I take a pretty liberal view on what you can do during pregnancy, but you definitely shouldn’t drink alcohol, especially during the first trimester. There really isn’t enough research to say that alcohol is safe later on in pregnancy, but many people start drinking a glass here and there during the last few months, without apparent problems. A good approach is to cut down on drinking if you’re trying to get pregnant, then stop entirely once you have a positive pregnancy test.
You also don’t want your body temperature to get too high. Adults can handle heat stress better than babies, and much better than fetuses. No extended hot tub, sauna, or extreme exercise sessions.
As far as medications, look up the “pregnancy category” online. Category B is safe, C is unknown, and D is unsafe. There are a lot of C’s, so talk to your doctor about those. Tylenol is fine at any time, and ibuprofen is safe during early (but not late) pregnancy.
For everything else, a good rule of thumb is that anything that’s bad for you is really bad for baby. That’s true for illegal drugs, and for anything that can give you food poisoning. Most people think of raw eggs or fish or unpasteurized cheese as foods for pregnant women to avoid, but if you look at food-related outbreaks, raw vegetables are probably the biggest risk, and nobody tells pregnant women not to eat salad. Plenty of people get away with eating fresh sushi and homemade ice cream for all nine months. Use common sense and don’t eat anything that seems sketchy. Same goes for physical activity — don’t risk serious impact.
Aside from probiotics and safe medications as needed, pregnant women should take a daily multivitamin with at least 400 mcg of folate. The multivitamin doesn’t need to be prenatal-specific. I like Now brand’s EVE because it includes a lot of ingredients that are good for pregnancy, like evening primrose oil (recommended by obstetricians to help cervix ripening) and our old friend cranberry. In addition, take one gram daily of a fish oil supplement with a lot of DHA and EPA (Dr. Tobias ranked highly in an independent test of EPA/DHA content), to promote brain development.
See an ob/gyn regularly during pregnancy. Each time, you’ll likely get an ultrasound that shows a blurry but live and exciting image of the developing fetus. They’ll also collect urine samples each time to test for UTIs and more serious pregnancy complications. Around week 25, there’s a glucose screening test to check for gestational diabetes. Toward the end, there will be more frequent ultrasounds and heartbeat monitoring to keep a close eye on the baby’s health.
A major technological breakthrough in recent years now allows you to learn the baby’s gender as early as 9 or 10 weeks using only a blood test for mom. The same test also checks for chromosomal disorders, like Down’s Syndrome, rendering the riskier amniocentesis procedure obsolete. Insurance doesn’t yet cover the blood test for mothers under 35 years old, but competition between companies offering the test has brought the price down to around $250 for self-pay Panorama (by Natera) — beware of higher costs with arrangements like high-deductible insurance plans. In addition to Panorama, the other (usually more expensive) options are Harmony (by Ariosa), MaterniT21 (by Sequenom), and Verifi (by Progenity). All four tests use similar, highly accurate technology, making it best to choose the cheapest option.
Staying fit will make life easier
I know it’s not easy to stay fit with a burgeoning belly, but the extra weight also means that a simple walk or stair climb soon becomes full-fledged cardio. A little bit of fitness will go a long way toward preventing pregnancy complications, like gestational diabetes or high blood pressure (from pre-eclampsia and related conditions). Many moms have found the Gabrialla belly band to be a huge help during workouts, or all the time in late pregnancy.
Stretch carefully and frequently, and take care to avoid heavy lifting. The pregnancy hormone relaxin loosens limbs and joints, enhancing flexibility, but increasing the risk of muscle strain and related injuries.
Eat healthy, again to reduce the risk of complications, and to speed physical recovery after delivery.
- Take probiotics for morning sickness and UTIs (and cranberry pills for UTIs).
- Take a multivitamin (with at least 400 mcg folate) and 1 gram of fish oil daily.
- Do not drink alcohol, take unsafe drugs or medications, or elevate your body temperature.
- A blood test is now the most accurate and earliest way to determine baby gender, as well as chromosomal disorders like Down’s Syndrome.
- Stay fit and exercise (with the help of a belly band in late pregnancy).
For more information, you can sift through the morass of information online, or you can read a handy week-by-week reference book like the one published by The Mayo Clinic.