Patients always want to know how they can optimize pregnancy outcomes, both for their baby and themselves. Ideally, prenatal care begins before conception. A few primary goals of preconception care include weight management, taking daily vitamins, getting necessary vaccinations, and screening and treating certain medical conditions and cancers.
– I often tell my patients that pregnancy is a marathon and labor and delivery are the sprint at the end of the marathon. My point is that pregnancy can be challenging for the body and labor and delivery aren’t any easier. Ideally, exercising and eating healthy prior to pregnancy helps your body start out in a good place and you can continue those good behaviors during your pregnancy and after delivery. Trying to tackle weight gain, changing dietary habits, and adapting a new fitness regimen can be difficult during pregnancy and you should consult your physician before you start. Learn more about achieving a healthy weight.
– Like maintaining a healthy weight, prenatal vitamins should also be taken prior to becoming pregnant. The two most important vitamins are ferrous sulfate, or iron, and folic acid. Iron can help prevent and treat iron-deficiency anemia. Anemia can make you feel fatigued, lightheaded or dizzy, and impact the well-being of your growing baby. Another vitamin, folic acid, is especially important because it assists with fetal neural tube development during the first trimester. Many women may not know they are pregnant until after the first trimester and it may be too late for the benefits of folic acid because by then the baby’s neural tube has already formed. Thus, it’s important to make sure you are getting your daily iron and folic acid prior to conception.
- Influenza: There’s a new flu shot every year and it’s safe and recommended during pregnancy. The flu vaccine protects both mom and baby against the flu and complications from the flu, including bronchitis, pneumonia and even death.
- Tdap: This vaccine primarily serves to protect the baby against whooping cough – a serious respiratory illness. Babies can’t get vaccinated and build protection against whooping cough until they are two months old. To prevent babies from catching whooping cough before they are vaccinated, mothers are encouraged to get vaccinated between 27-36 weeks of pregnancy. The protective antibodies mom makes will provide the baby short-term protection against whooping cough.
Even if pregnancy isn’t on your mind, maintaining a healthy weight, taking a daily vitamin, and staying up-to-date on your vaccinations are good health habits. Additionally, seeing your provider about these basic health maintenance concerns allows you to also be screened and treated for common medical conditions. Look out for cancer screening and diabetes and hypertension testing in the next patient guide to reducing maternal morbidity and mortality!
Dr. Parin Patel is an OB/GYN Resident Physician at University of Texas Medical Branch. She is the District XI Toy Advocacy Fellow, which is a fellowship focused on Advocacy and Leadership.