Portsmouth Regional Hospital - February 28, 2024

Follow these tips for a healthy pregnancy for mom and baby.

Finding out you’re expecting a baby can be one of the most joyous times in a person’s life. Carrying a child is also a huge responsibility and can bring up lots of questions. We’re here to help ensure you have the healthiest pregnancy possible. Follow these essential tips throughout your pregnancy journey.

1. Don’t skip your physicals and prenatal checkups.

Annual well-woman exams are recommended for all women, even if you aren’t pregnant and don’t need a Pap smear. These visits allow you to discuss changes in family history, receive a pelvic exam and ask questions about any health concerns you may have. If you’re planning to start a family, certain blood tests may be able to detect possible genetic issues that could lead to congenital differences down the road.

Once you are pregnant, call your healthcare provider (HCP) right away so you can start prenatal care. This can help your HCP catch any potential issues, like infections or conditions that could cause complications for you or your growing baby. Routine blood work can detect whether you’re protected from rubella (German measles) or if you have infections like chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), all of which could have an impact on your pregnancy. Regular ultrasounds will also be a part of your prenatal care plan. These tests can help your HCP spot any developmental concerns and monitor how the fetus is growing.

2. Take prenatal vitamins.

As soon as you are pregnant, talk to your HCP about switching to a daily prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid as well as other important nutrients. Folic acid, a form of the B vitamin folate, is essential for preventing brain and spinal birth issues such as anencephaly and spina bifida.

Ask your OBGYN for recommendations and samples of different brands and types of prenatal vitamins and how to choose the one that’s right for you. Some pregnant people may need more folic acid than others. Certain foods such as fortified cereal and pasta, leafy greens and citrus may also contain large amounts of folic acid or folate, so you may want to increase your intake of those nutrient-rich foods, too, in consultation with your HCP.

If you’re planning to become pregnant, follow your HCP’s recommendations about what type of prenatal vitamin to take and how much folic acid supplementation you should be getting. The typical amount is between 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid per day — don’t take more than that unless your HCP prescribes a larger amount.

3. Avoid alcohol entirely.

No amount of alcohol during pregnancy is considered safe, so it’s best to avoid it completely. It’s also advisable to avoid alcohol if you’re planning to get pregnant. Any alcohol you consume when you’re pregnant can pass to your fetus through the umbilical cord and increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and a number of physical, behavioral and intellectual disabilities known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).

Those with FASDs may experience a variety of issues as infants and throughout their lives, including:

  • Differences in facial features
  • Small head size
  • Shorter-than-average height
  • Low body weight
  • Coordination issues
  • Overactive behavior
  • Intellectual differences
  • Vision or hearing issues
  • Problems with the heart, kidneys or bones

If you’re concerned about your alcohol use or have alcohol dependence, talk to your HCP or reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 800-662-4357 for free, confidential, 24/7 information and resources that can help you quit.

4. Avoid tobacco smoke and other harmful chemicals.

Your own health is at risk any time you smoke, but smoking during pregnancy can also harm your developing fetus. Heart and kidney complications as well as cleft lip, cleft palate, gastroschisis (an intestinal issue) and incomplete closure of the abdominal wall have all been associated with smoking while pregnant. Smoking during pregnancy can also increase the risk of preterm birth and sudden infant death syndrome.

The best thing to do is to quit smoking before you are pregnant or try to quit as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. If you don’t smoke, steer clear of anyone who does, since secondhand smoke can cause harm, too. Remember that it’s never too late to quit, even if you’re pregnant.

As much as possible, it’s also important to avoid other substances in your environment that may be harmful to a developing fetus. For example, if you work with pesticides, lead or radiation or chemotherapy drugs, let your HCP know and speak with your supervisor about making changes on the job to reduce your exposure to these chemicals.

You should also reduce the amount of mercury you take in through your diet, as it can also affect a developing fetus. Certain types of fish that are particularly high in mercury include swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.

5. Avoid marijuana and other drugs.

Marijuana, cocaine, opioid and other drugs can cross the placenta and pass through to the developing fetus, causing harm. In addition to miscarriage, growth issues, premature birth and stillbirth, cocaine is associated with birth differences of the brain and spinal cord, urinary tract and bones. The impact of marijuana on a growing fetus is still unclear, but amphetamines — like speed or crystal meth — have been connected to certain heart complications and poor growth.

Talk with your HCP or contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at 800-662-4357 if you need help quitting drugs. If you take drugs and are planning to get pregnant, try to stop using drugs well before you do get pregnant.

6. Practice infection prevention.

When you’re pregnant, you’re at higher risk for certain infections. Some of these infections can cause serious illness and congenital issues such as microcephaly or hearing loss. There are many steps you can take to lower your risk of contracting infections, including:

  • Avoid traveling to areas with high risk of viruses such as Zika when you’re pregnant.
  • Avoid soft, unpasteurized cheeses and deli meats to lower your chances of contracting listeria, an infection that’s usually caused by consumption of contaminated food and is accompanied by fever and other flu-like symptoms.
  • Steer clear of cat litter to protect yourself from toxoplasmosis, a serious disease caused by a parasite that can lead to fetal organ damage. If you have to clean your cat’s box, use gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
  • Avoid contact with rodents such as mice, hamsters or guinea pigs. These animals could carry the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, which in serious cases could lead to meningitis, encephalitis or inflammation of the brain.
  • Keep an eye on food recalls and don’t take chances with food that’s been sitting in the fridge or on the kitchen counter too long.
  • Always practice good hygiene while pregnant. Wash your hands often, especially after using the bathroom, touching raw meats or veggies, handling pets or playing with children.

7. Make sure your vaccinations are up to date.

If you contract an infection such as rubella during pregnancy, it can potentially lead to poor fetal growth, heart complications, hearing loss or developmental issues. Chickenpox may also increase the risk of miscarriage, eye damage, limb differences, blindness or intellectual differences, so it’s important to make sure you are up to date on the recommended vaccinations.

Prior to becoming pregnant, discuss your vaccination history with your OBGYN so you can get any necessary shots that are unsafe to administer during pregnancy, like the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine. Once you are pregnant, it’s important to stay up to date with any vaccines like the Tdap vaccine (to protect against adult tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis) as well as shots for the flu, hepatitis B or others you may need if you travel overseas while pregnant.

8. Manage chronic conditions.

If you have any chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, it’s important to get them under control before you become pregnant. Uncontrolled chronic high blood pressure prior to pregnancy can slow fetal growth, increase the risk of preterm delivery, placental abruption, low birth weight and preeclampsia. Obesity and autoimmune disorders may also increase the risk of congenital issues.

Regardless of your condition, make sure you’ve consulted with the appropriate HCPs prior to pregnancy about developing a management plan. When you become pregnant, see your HCP right away to discuss treatment options that are safe for both you and your developing fetus.

9. Discuss all medications and supplements with your HCP.

It’s always a good idea to keep your HCPs in the loop when it comes to the medications and supplements you’re taking, but you’ll want to be especially forthcoming during pregnancy. What you put in your body during the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy is particularly important, since your fetus’s vital organs are developing during that time. Many medications have not been tested for safety during pregnancy and others have known side effects that can damage the heart or brain.

Make a list of every over-the-counter or prescription medication, vitamin, dietary supplement, and herbal product you’re taking and discuss with your OBGYN as soon as you know you’re pregnant. If you’re trying to become pregnant, it’s a good idea to discuss your list at a routine OBGYN visit. Your HCP may suggest alternative treatments or lower doses or may advise you to stop taking the medication altogether. You should never start or stop taking any medication without first discussing it with your HCP, whether you’re pregnant or not.

Portsmouth Regional Hospital offers a wide range of women’s health services, including gynecologic services, high-risk pregnancy care, prenatal care, and labor and delivery services. We also offer classes, events and maternity unit tours for new parents and expectant moms.