Although your child has yet to be born, your pregnancy can be a pivotal time in the life of your newborn. Some mothers even start planning for pregnancy years in advance to make sure that everything is done properly. There are in fact many steps that can be taken, as well as actions that can be avoided, in order to ensure the health and proper future development of your child.
When planning a pregnancy, there are many proactive steps you can take to aid the health of your child. There are even ways you should be preparing yourself to have a baby before trying to get pregnant. If you know that you will be trying to get pregnant in the near future, you should immediately begin improving your diet and exercise routine. This will reduce possible health risks due to obesity and diabetes (Why is 40 Weeks so Important?). In addition, any addictions should be addressed as soon as possible so that they do not affect you or your child during the pregnancy.
Once the pregnancy starts, you should consult a doctor regularly to keep up on the health of their baby. Furthermore, doctor’s visits can be important if you have a potentially heritable disease like HIV or certain other STD’s. For example, if you have HIV, taking HIV medications can reduce the chances of the baby contracting HIV from 20% to less than 5% (Pregnancy and HIV). It is also very important to visit the doctor to get regular ultrasounds. Ultrasounds can help determine the due date of the baby, monitor it’s growth, and check for abnormalities among other benefits (Having an Ultrasound).
Another important factor in a child’s prenatal development is the length of time they spend in their mother’s womb. You should not give birth before your doctor recommends it. The March of Dimes, a national organization founded to help mothers improve the health of their babies, dictates that a birth should not be inducted, or brought about artificially, unless there are health concerns for the mother without it. Even though it may seem easier to have the baby a few weeks earlier through a C-section, it is not beneficial to the baby. You should try to have your baby at the standard time (40th week of pregnancy). When this is the case, your baby is much more likely to see fewer health issues like jaundice, trouble with breathing and a smaller brain. Even if your child’s short-term health is not affected, it is more likely to suffer from ADHD, diabetes and heart disease later on in life (Why is 40 Weeks so Important?).
Your exercise habits during pregnancy also have a huge effect on your baby’s development as well. In a recent study, one group of pregnant women was asked to exercise at least three times a week while another group did not exercise and was only somewhat active during pregnancy. Once the babies were born, scientists attached sensors to their heads, and played two different noises to them. Brain activity, picked up by the sensors, was greater in the babies whose mothers exercised during their pregnancies. This can be interpreted as a sign of higher brain development and maturity. Additionally, other research indicates that exercises during pregnancy can help babies’ heart health later in life (MacRae).
Your diet impacts the child’s development as well, because the food you eat will get transferred to the baby in the womb. Try to eat more fruits and vegetables because the baby will be more used to and more likely to eat those foods when out of the womb. If you do have a diet high in fruits and vegetables, your baby will develop a taste for those flavors, which they are not naturally attracted to. Recently, a study found that mothers who drank carrot juice during the last trimester of pregnancy or while breastfeeding had babies who consumed twice as much carrot-flavored cereal while being weaned (Collins). Essentially, you should try to eat a variety of foods with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables so that your child will be more likely to eat healthy foods as soon as they are born.
In addition to proactive steps, certain detrimental actions must be avoided as well. Some of the largest threats to a neonate’s health are what are called teratogens. Teratogens are environmental agents that directly lead to or increase the likelihood of abnormalities in the development of unborn babies. The list of teratogens is enormous and very little is known about many of them. Despite this, there are still steps you can take to reduce risk.
The first step is to refrain from drinking any alcohol whatsoever. The effects of moderate drinking are still relatively unknown, but heavier alcohol consumption can lead to what is known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). FASD can lead to physical deformities of the face, limbs and heart as well as learning and behavioral problems and mental retardation that are irreversible (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). Alcohol is one of the most common teratogens, but thankfully, it can be avoided.
In addition to alcohol, it is also crucial to a baby’s health to avoid smoking or even being around cigarette smoke. Many of the toxins in cigarette smoke easily cross the placenta and enter the baby’s bloodstream. These teratogens can lead to problems such as miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Guidance for Preventing Birth Defects). Although quitting may be difficult, it is crucial to stop smoking before attempting to get pregnant. There are many resources out there to help you quit, and your child will thank you in the long run.
Not surprisingly, illegal street drugs like cocaine and heroine can also have detrimental effects during pregnancy. However, some completely legal medicines such as Aspirin and Ibuprofen can be dangerous as well. In general, it is recommended that you avoid all medications unless a doctor has specifically directed you to take a medicine because the benefits outweigh the potential risk (What to Avoid During Pregnancy). So, it is important to talk to your doctor about any medications you are currently on before becoming pregnant.
Some less obvious threats to a baby’s health are chemicals, such as ones found in the home. Many household cleaning and gardening products contain potentially harmful chemicals that expectant mothers should do their best to avoid altogether during pregnancy. Paint also poses a threat as it could potentially contain lead and other chemicals that have not been tested in regard to their effect on newborns (What to Avoid During Pregnancy). It is in your best interest to avoid painting and housework altogether while you are pregnant.
In addition to chemicals and drugs, it also important to avoid other factors such as infection and overheating. It is important for mother’s to do their best to not get sick themselves. Washing your hands, making sure to not eat undercooked eggs and meat, and not handling pets can all reduce the risk of infection and therefore developmental abnormalities for your baby (Guidance for Preventing Birth Defects). The effects of overheating are relatively unknown, but in general, expectant mothers should avoid hot tubs, saunas, and seek medical attention for a fever higher than 100 degrees.
All of this information at one time can be overwhelming. That is why it is important to start planning for your pregnancy ahead of time, to dedicate yourself to a successful pregnancy, and to have both you and your partner on the same page when it comes to pregnancy and child care. There is no way to guarantee a successful pregnancy, but if you follow these steps and are prepared to have a child, the odds are stacked in your favor.
Brody, Jane E. “Too Many Pills in Pregnancy.” Well Too Many Pills in Pregnancy Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
Collins, Nick. “Expectant Mothers Who Eat Too Little Fruit Have Fussy Children.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 26 Feb. 0014. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
“Expectant Mothers Who Eat Too Little Fruit Have Fussy Children.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 26 Feb. 0014. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
“Guidance for Preventing Birth Defects.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 July 2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.
“Guide for a Healthy Pregnancy.” What to Avoid during Pregnancy. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
“Having an Ultrasound.” Pegnancy Ultrasounds. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
MacRae, Fiona. “Exercise When You’re Pregnant ‘and You’ll Have a Brighter Baby’: Three 20-minute Sessions a Week Help Boost Brain Development in the Womb.” Mail Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
“Pregnancy and HIV.” Pregnancy and HIV. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
Staff, Mayo Clinic. “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 21 May 2011. Web. 01 Dec. 2013.