Pre- and Postnatal Care

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Prenatal care helps keep the mother and her future baby healthy during pregnancy. Doctors, nurses, or midwives monitor the development of the baby and do routine testing in order to find and prevent possible problems. It is important for women to seek prenatal care as soon as they learn they are expecting (1). According to Women’s Health, babies of mothers who don’t seek out prenatal care are three times more likely to have a low birth weight and five times more likely to die than the babies of mothers who do get care (2). Regular checkups will be scheduled over the course of the pregnancy so that doctors may spot health problems early on (2). It is important for women to attend them all and follow their doctors’ advice. Doctors can give women recommendations on how to ease their discomfort during their pregnancy and even how to give their future babies a healthy start to life (2). Supplements can be an important part of this.

Prenatal Health Care
Expecting mothers must get early and regular prenatal care. Other things women can do to ensure a healthy pregnancy include taking a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin with 400-800 micrograms of folic acid each day throughout the entire pregnancy. Folic acid is recommended for at least three months before getting pregnant (2). It is also recommended that women get a flu shot to avoid hospital care. It may not be safe to take certain medicines during pregnancy, so pregnant women should consult with their doctor before starting or stopping any medications or supplement (1). Also, pregnant women should avoid x-rays unless it is absolutely necessary. X-rays should only be done if the benefits outweigh the risks (3).

Prenatal Nutrition and Lifestyle
Women should eat a nutritious diet during pregnancy for good fetal brain development, to reduce the risk of birth defects, and so the baby has a healthy birth weight (4). It is important for women to consume sufficient amounts of protein, vitamin C, calcium, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, iron-rich foods, adequate fat, and folic acid.

Women should wash fruits and vegetables well before eating them. They should not eat undercooked meats or fish to protect themselves and their baby from food-borne illnesses (1).

Gaining a healthy amount of weight is essential during pregnancy. Eating a nutrient rich diet can reduce the risk of anemia, fatigue, morning sickness, and mood swings (4).
Moderate exercise can benefit the mother and her future baby. Exercising for 30 minutes a day “is proven to help circulation, strengthen muscles, and decrease stress” (4). Pregnant women should speak with their doctors before starting any exercise regime.

Things to Avoid When Pregnant
It is important for women to stay away from certain things that may be harmful to them or their babies (1).
• Smoking, second-hand smoke, drinking alcohol, or drug use
• Hot baths, hot tubs, or saunas
• Chemicals like insecticides, solvents, lead, mercury, and paint
• Cats that may have toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by a parasite found in their feces.
• Eating fish with high mercury levels like swordfish, king mackerel, shark, and tilefish
• Rodents, as they may carry harmful viruses
• Unpasteurized milk, cheese, and juice (4)

Postpartum Care
Postpartum is the period after the baby is born. It typically lasts six to eight weeks, ending when the mother’s body returns to its pre-pregnant state (5). It is important for mothers to get proper nutrition and rest in order to regain their strength. During this time, mothers will experience many emotional and physical changes. Mothers should be relieved of all responsibilities other than feeding their babies and taking care of themselves in the first few weeks (5).

Emotional Changes
About 70 to 80% of new mothers will experience baby blues a few days after giving birth. This can last for up to two weeks and symptoms include unexplained crying, irritability, and insomnia. If symptoms last more than two weeks, women may be experiencing Postpartum depression and should speak with a doctor in order to get medical treatment (6).
A new baby changes the family dynamic. It may be overwhelming for the mother and her partner, but it is important to be patient. It takes time to adjust to life with a newborn, and communication is essential.

Physical Changes
Women’s bodies continue to change even after they have given birth. Some examples of these changes are:
• Weight gain. Women should maintain a healthy diet and make sure they are getting enough calories. They should check with their doctor to make sure it is safe for them to start exercising again.
• Breast engorgement as breasts fill with milk after birth. If the swelling is uncomfortable, women should apply a warm or cold compress to the breasts.
• Constipation is a common symptom, so new mothers should eat high-fiber foods and drink lots of water in order to stimulate bowel activity.
• The perineum, the area between the rectum and vagina, can stretch or tear during the delivery. Kegel exercise, icing the area, and sitting on a pillow can help the area recover.
• Sweating due to hormonal changes.
• Uterine pain due to the uterus shrinking after delivery.
• Vaginal discharge is typical two to four weeks after giving birth. New mothers should not use tampons until the doctor approves it. The doctor should be contacted if the discharge is foul smelling, or if vaginal bleeding occurs. (6)

References

  1. Prenatal Care, https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/prenatal-care . Accessed September 25, 2017.
  2. Prenatal Care, https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/pregnancy/prenatal-care . Accessed September 25, 2017.
  3. X-Rays During Pregnancy, http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/x-rays-during-pregnancy/ Accessed September 25, 2017.
  4. Maintaining a Healthy Pregnancy, http://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/healthy-pregnancy#health1 . Accessed September 25, 2017.
  5. Recovery and Care After Delivery, http://www.healthline.com/health/postpartum-care#overview1 . Accessed September 25, 2017.
  6. The New Mother – Taking Care of Yourself After Birth, http://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=the-new-mother—taking-care-of-yourself-after-birth-90-P02693. Accessed September 25, 2017.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine December 2017

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