After learning that you're pregnant, your main agenda is simple: Tell your partner and celebrate! But once the happy news sinks in, the next steps can seem overwhelming. To help simplify the situation, we asked Akua Afriyie-Gray, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Loyola Medical Center, for the most important moves a pregnant woman should make.
Getting proper nutrition is important for a healthy pregnancy, and your body requires an additional dose of certain vitamins at this time. For instance, pregnant women need to bump up their folic acid intake from 400 to 600 micrograms (mcg) a day to protect against birth defects. "Because these nutrients are so important, I recommend that women start taking prenatal vitamins as soon as they start trying to conceive," explains Afriyie-Gray. Any variety labeled "prenatal" should cover your bases, but make sure to check out the dose; some brands require two pills a day.
Drinking too much can cause permanent harm to your baby. It can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that hinders mental and physical development. "What you need to worry about is the cumulative amount of alcohol you drink during pregnancy," says Afriyie-Gray. So the glass or two of wine you sipped before you realized that you were pregnant isn't dangerous, she says, as long as you lay off the Shiraz from now on.
But whether you can sip the occasional cocktail for the next nine months is up for debate: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there's no safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy. Some experts disagree, saying that a small glass once in a while is fine; consult your doctor to determine what's best for you.
These days, there are more options for your obstetrical provider: You can choose from Ob-Gyns, midwives, family practitioners, doulas and more. Along with your partner, decide what provider best suits your needs. Those with a medical condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure, may want to choose an Ob-Gyn, while those with a history of genetic problems may choose the guidance of a maternal fetal specialist.
Puffing on a cigarette exposes your baby to harmful chemicals, such as tar and nicotine, while reducing blood flow. As a result, smoking increases your chances of having complications, such an ectopic pregnancy and birth defects. Speak to your healthcare provider about the best way to stop smoking.
Beyond your own habit, it's also important to stamp out cigarettes all around you. "Secondhand smoke is also dangerous to the fetus," says Afriyie-Gray. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, pregnant women who were chronically exposed to secondhand smoke were 23 percent more likely to have a stillbirth and 13 percent more likely to have a child with a birth defect. So tell your family to refrain from lighting up in your presence, and always opt for non-smoking areas in public spaces.
Pregnant women should avoid strenuous work and excessive amounts of stress. So if lifting heavy objects is part of your job, or if your high-pressure workload causes anxiety, speak with someone in your company's human resources department.
Whether it's sushi or a medium-rare steak, undercooked meat may harbor harmful bacteria that cause toxoplasmosis, a dangerous infection that can result in serious eye or brain damage. Another potential danger: deli meat, which can contain another bacteria called listeria. If you can't bear to part with those turkey slices, make sure that you heat them until they're steaming hot.
Once you've informed others of your pregnancy, speak with someone in your benefits department to discuss the details of your maternity leave. Some companies don't grant extra time if you have to enter the hospital early due to complications. Knowing the fine print can help you make the smartest decisions.
Make sure that you're up-to-date on all of your shots. The CDC advises that all pregnant women receive an annual flu shot, since changes in your immune system leave you more vulnerable to flu-related complications.
While you're at it, check on the status of your TDAP vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Pertussis (also known as whooping cough) has made a comeback, and the illness can be dangerous—or even deadly—in infants. Getting immunized during pregnancy protects your newborn. To play it safe, ask that anyone who plans on having close contact with your child to get vaccinated.
Finally, a legitimate reason to buy cute new outfits: Your body is going to change over the next nine months. "Not only should you expect them, but you should embrace them," says Afriyie-Gray. To prepare, pick up a nursing bra, maternity clothes and comfortable shoes.
More than half of women experience feelings of anxiety or depression during pregnancy, according to an online poll done by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. If you're grappling with one of these emotions, tell someone so you can get the help you need, whether it's a supportive hug or medical assistance.
Together with your partner, determine when you're going to share the happy news with your family, friends and coworkers. "There's less of a chance of pregnancy loss after a heartbeat is seen on the ultrasound, so that's when some people feel comfortable telling others," says Afriyie-Gray. But it's a personal decision, so make sure that you're both on the same page.
When you're dealing with so many changes in your body, your dental health probably isn't the first thing on your mind. But the state of your gums and teeth can affect your baby's well-being. "Bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream, which increases the risk of preterm contractions," explains Afriyie-Gray. So don't forget to brush and floss, and schedule those dental checkups.
It's all too easy to get caught up with the details. But don't forget to step back to relax and enjoy your pregnancy. "It's such a special time in a woman's life," says Afriyie-Gray. So pamper yourself and put your pregnancy first!