Staying Healthy in Pregnancy
Without a doubt, birth is the most significant event in our life. Nonetheless, the previous nine months or so is also pretty important, both for mother and child. We’ve all had at least one personal experience with pregnancy; but it is mothers who continually bear the consequences – in more ways than one – of carrying life into the world.
Whilst pregnancy could never really be considered uneventful, for most women being pregnant is full of joy and free of serious complications. Even so, there are often times when being pregnant can be uncomfortable at best and occasionally quite distressing.
Nausea and vomiting – so-called morning sickness – occurs in about 80% of pregnant women. Constipation is also a common complaint. Conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure sometimes occur for the first time during pregnancy and need special management. And of course, there are pre-existing medical conditions where management strategies may need to be modified to protect the health of the unborn baby.
The term “morning sickness” is somewhat misleading as many women suffer in the evenings, or even all day. The nausea and vomiting of pregnancy (it is known medically as NVP) generally begins between weeks four and seven and clears by week 14.
In very severe cases hospital admission may be necessary to treat dehydration and electrolyte disturbances, but usually NVP can be well controlled with dietary measures such as eating smaller, more frequent meals or dry, salty biscuits as snacks.
And fortunately, there are also prescription and indeed some non-prescription medicines available that can help treat NVP safely and effectively.
Recent research has indicated that NVP might have evolved to ensure pregnant women do not digest too much unhealthy food. Researchers at the University of Liverpool in the UK, in analysing 56 previous studies from 21 countries, found evidence that NVP is associated with high intake of sugar, alcohol, oils and meat. Previously it had been thought that NVP was an unfortunate by-product of dramatic hormonal changes during early pregnancy.
Clearly eating the right foods at the right time is important during pregnancy and for some women nutritional supplements are also important.
Folic acid, a B group vitamin, is essential for the prevention of neural tube defects (NTDs) – conditions affecting the skull and spinal cord. As NTDs occur very early in pregnancy, even before many women realise they are pregnant, adequate intake of folic acid is essential for all women of child bearing age. Good sources of folic acid are spinach, broccoli, lentils, kidney beans and grains.
Iron deficiency anaemia is relatively common in pregnancy – a likely cause of pre-term delivery and low birth weight. Supplements of iron and folic acid are available from pharmacies.
Dr Maggie Blott, a consultant obstetrician at London’s King’s College Hospital, in commenting on the British study results, said that while it was sensible for a woman to eat healthily in pregnancy, it was more important to avoid alcohol, smoking and drugs.
Smoking is never a good option, and it’s a particularly dangerous past-time when pregnant. The reality is that you are poisoning your baby with highly toxic chemicals – it’s that simple.
Far better to stop smoking, therefore, before you become pregnant.