The best thing you can do for your baby is to give him a good head start in life by having a healthy pregnancy. But did you know that having a healthy pregnancy actually begins with a little preconception planning? This month, I’d like to advise you on the top three things you should be incorporating into your routine if you are pregnant or are planning on becoming pregnant in the future: Prenatal Vitamins, Exercise and Stress Reduction.
Prenatal vitamins are essential for Moms to ensure they receive a large percentage of the Recommended Daily Value of Vitamins A, B-1, B-2, Niacin, B-6, B-12, C, D and E, as well as Folic Acid, Calcium, Iron and usually Zinc. Several different brands are available that offer no preservatives, no artificial flavors, no wheat, no starch, etc. Some Moms may need to try several different brands until they find one that works for them. Thanks to a large consumer awareness campaign over the last fifteen or twenty years, most women understand the importance of Folic Acid in helping to prevent Spina Bifida. Spina Bifida occurs when the baby’s spine fails to close during the first few months of pregnancy; it is the most common permanently disabling birth defect occurring in the United States and the effects are different for each person. Prenatal vitamins should be introduced 6 weeks before conception. Research shows there may even be advantages gained by beginning prenatal vitamins as early as three to six months prior to conception.
Exercise is beneficial to both Mom and baby. You’ve no doubt heard that a Mom can continue doing most activities she was doing prior to becoming pregnant throughout the first and second trimesters. What this means is if you already have a weekly exercise routine of, for example, three aerobics classes and three days of weight lifting, you most likely should be able to continue with that routine, making modifications as you feel necessary. By the end of the second or beginning of the third trimester, some Moms may feel a need to cut back on some of their activities. Each person is different and some Moms may feel well enough to keep up with their routine for the entire pregnancy by modifying the intensity and/or duration. Pilates is a great class to add prior to conception and may be continued up until about the twelfth week. Most women should avoid aggressive abdominal exercises as seen in a Pilates class after the first trimester to avoid the possibility of developing a Diastasis Recti. A diastasis recti is a separation of the right and left sides of the abdominal muscles that forms a ridge running down the center of the belly from the breast bone to the belly button. Yoga may be introduced at any time as most instructors will be glad to teach modifications throughout the class. Studies show that a Mom who exercises throughout the duration of her pregnancy may experience little to no morning sickness, nausea, back pain, swelling and other irritations sometimes seen in pregnancy. Maintaining an exercise program also helps Mom gain the appropriate amount of weight during pregnancy and makes it easier to lose the weight after the baby is born. It is believed that babies of Moms who maintain an exercise routine are delivered easier, sleep better, latch on to nurse with less difficulty and develop at a faster pace than babies born of sedentary and/or overweight Moms.
Moms should take all steps necessary to lessen stress before and during pregnancy. The hormones produced in a woman’s body during periods of stress have a very negative effect on the developing baby. Research over the past decade on maternal stress during pregnancy has shown a probable link to neurological complications in the baby. Excess stress hormones produced when Mom is under duress such as dealing with abuse issues, a terrible divorce, financial turmoil or dealing with a high stress work environment, are believed to cause the two halves of the baby’s developing brain to develop differently. The studies centered around children with behavioral problems, hyperactivity and excessive fidgeting, explaining that as a result of fetal stress, one side of the brain works very fast and one side of the brain works very slow in some of these children. It’s always advisable to reduce as much stress in your life as possible, and while further research is being conducted, the results to date should at least serve as a reminder that pregnant women should stress less and relax more.
Take good care of yourself, for you and your baby’s sake. Forty weeks of pregnancy is a relatively short time period in the grand scheme of things. And you are your baby’s best hope for a healthy life.