By Cliff Gelb and Ethan Leibowitz
There are millions of behaviors and activities that we participate in every day. Usually, these activities have an effect only on the person who does the action, but a pregnant woman must realize her behavior directly affects the fetus inside her as well. Blood cells are primarily responsible for transporting nutrients, oxygen and potential teratogens from the mother’s placenta to the fetus, via the umbilical cord. There are many harmful substances the mother can ingest or become exposed to that can have negative and harmful effects on the fetus, as well certain vitamins and minerals that can promote prenatal development. The main point of this brochure: PREGNANT WOMEN NEED TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR BODIES!
The Do’s of Pregnancy: How to Actively Support Healthy Development
Eat right: The saying is true that you are eating for both you and your baby. That means the nutrients that you consume are the ones that are going to your fetus. Therefore, it is important to eat foods that will provide nutrition that supports prenatal development. A key finding that supports this notion is the fact that women who overeat tend to birth heavy babies, who then have a higher rate of obesity later in life. There are four nutrients that you should ensure you consume while pregnant: Folate, iron, calcium, and omega 3’s. Folate can be found in green vegetables like spinach. This vitamin will help prevent neural-tube defects in the baby, which can negatively impact the brain development of your fetus. Iron can be found in lean meats like turkey. Iron helps bring oxygen to the placenta. If your fetus lacks oxygen, he or she can be born prematurely. Calcium can be consumed most healthily in non-fat milk. It supports your fetus’s bone development. Omega 3’s can be found in fish. They help develop your infant’s eyesight and can also lower your risk of a premature birth. Overall, it is important to eat a well-balanced diet, to ensure you are not over or under eating, and to put natural foods into your body that support your unborn baby’s development (Parents.com).
Sleep well: Although sleep can be hindered from anxiety and discomfort of the pregnancy, it is vital that you get adequate sleep for both you and your baby. Studies show that little sleep can lead to premature births, low weight births, and an increase in depression, which can have negative affects on your fetus. A lack of sleep can also negatively affect the immune system of the mother, which can then impact the fetus’s development. Overall, make sure you are sleeping a normal amount to keep you sane and your baby healthy (Psychology Today).
Play music: Don’t play music to your fetus if you think he or she will become the next pop star, but do it for the sake of prenatal development. By playing different sounds, your fetus becomes habituated to the rhythm and tone of your language, which can help increase brain development by the increase of neurons created. While how much of what an infant hears in the womb is remembered is debated, it does not hurt to have your fetus experience music prenatally (Oprah.com).
Read to your baby: While your baby won’t come out of the womb reading, if you read to your baby, positive affects will ensue. First off, he or she will recognize your voice when born. This will lead to you being able to calm her down more easily when she is born. Furthermore, your unborn baby hearing your voice starts the mother-child bonding process prenatally. There is also a debate as to whether or not reading to your fetus can improve his or her brain development by actually helping him or her begin to learn language. While there is evidence that this is true, there is also evidence that all that the infant learns in the womb is lost after 21 days, so how much reading improves brain development is questionable. Either way, make sure you read to your fetus without overstimulation him or her, for positive bonding and voice recognition will occur (Early Moments.com, Examiner.com).
Relax: While this one may seem obvious, the pressures of pregnancy can often build up without you realizing, negatively impacting your baby’s prenatal development. Stressful hormones can be imprinted onto your baby that can lead to stressful emotions in your child later in life. A study also showed that how anxious a mother is while pregnant is correlated with higher rates of adhd in the child. Therefore, that bubble bath your spouse is pushing you to take might be more significant to you, and more importantly your fetus, than you thought (WebMd).
Use protection: Although it obviously won’t lead to pregnancy, having unprotected sex while pregnant can lead to you contracting STDs. These STDs can then be transmitted to your baby through the placenta. Therefore, make sure to use a condom when having sex while pregnant. You do not want your infant to have to deal with this because of your mistake.
The Don’t’s: Teratogens
Don’t Drink Alcohol! Alcohol is the most commonly consumed teratogen, and can cause fetal alcohol syndrome when drunk by a pregnant mother. Many infants with this syndrome have stunted growth and facial features that include a thin upper lip, smoothed philtrum, and a decreased eye width. They often have decreased brain function due to damaged neurons which causes cognitive and behavioral problems (CDC, 2013).
Don’t Smoke Cigarettes! Smoking is known to cause cancer, heart disease and other health problems in adults and can have deadly effects on the fetus. Mother’s smoking during pregnancy is associated to premature births, infant deaths and other birth defects (CDC, 2013). Smoking can also cause damage to the placenta, which is how infants receive nutrients and oxygen.
Don’t Overheat Yourself! Long lasting fevers, or an Increased core body temperature, occurring in the first trimester have been linked to birth defects and a higher rate of miscarriage (South Shore Medical Center). Therefore you should avoid anything that can overheat your body for example, saunas, electric blankets, whirlpools, hot tubs and steam rooms. If your fever is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit or lasts more than a few days you must contact your healthcare provider.
Don’t Have Any X-Rays Done and Avoid Other Radiation! If shielded properly, the risk to your baby is decreased while getting an x-ray. Overall getting an x-ray or being affected by other forms of radiation can change the cells that are rapidly dividing during the early stages of pregnancy which can lead to severe birth defects and childhood diseases (FDA).
Avoid Contact With Chemicals! Many of us work with or use chemicals every day. When working with chemicals, wear gloves and a face mask in order to avoid any direct contact, keeping it out of your bloodstream.
Be careful! Consult a physician before taking any and all forms of medicine. While some might seem beneficial and safe, they may be harming your baby.
Don’t Take Any Category X Drugs! According to the FDA, Category X drugs that, “Studies in animals or humans have demonstrated fetal abnormalities and/or there is positive evidence of human fetal risk based on adverse reaction data from investigational or marketing experience, and the risks involved in use of the drug in pregnant women clearly outweigh potential benefits (FDA).”
Category X drugs include birth control and fertility drugs, an oral medication used for treatment of severe acne, some anti-cancer and anti-seizure drugs.
Accutane is a example of a category X drug. It is a medicine that is used to treat severe acne. It is a very dangerous teratogen that has been proven to cause birth defects in 25%-38% of feti when exposed during the first trimester (Metroplex).
Another famous example is the drug Thalidomide. It was used in mass quantities in the early 1950s and 60s to cure morning sickness in pregnant women. The drug was officially banned in 1961 because the drug was causing severe birth defects, most notably limb malformations where bone growth was hindered (Kim & Anthony, 2011).
Don’t Use Category D Drugs! (Or Just Be Careful)! Category D drugs are drugs that have been shown to cause problems in the fetus, but in some cases can be more beneficial than harmful. Category D drugs include several antibiotics, neurologic, psychiatric drugs, along with certain forms of chemotherapy (Christensen).
Conclusion: While there are many different ways in which to support prenatal development, it is clear an active role in supporting your baby must be taken before your infant is born. If you follow these Do’s and Don’t’s of pregnancy, you are ensuring a healthy baby will be in your arms a mere nine months from now.