Pregnancy and Nutrition

Since the most critical time of fetus formation occurs in the earliest weeks of the pregnancy, the woman’s first awareness of her pregnancy is often after that crucial time. So, it is wise to arrange a preconception health review and care visit with a physician to prepare the bodies of  ‘mothers to be’ to provide the healthiest physiological environment from the very first day of a developing fetus's journey to an infant.

Women over the age of 35 years have increased risks for infants with genetic defects. Genetic screening, prior to conception, is important for Blacks- sickle cell disease; Jewish- Tay Sachs Disease; Mediterranean or Asian or Indian- Thalassemias blood disease. In India 6,000 (aprox) babies are born each year with Thalassemia major. It is now possible to detect this prenatally (at Center for Genetic Health Care, Mumbai, for example) with 99.5 % reliability.

Before pregnancy, women should be screened for HIV disease, immunity to chicken pox and rubella, hepatitis B, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis.  All women planning on pregnancy should be immunized to tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox. If not immunized, vaccinations can be provided before pregnancy to protect the fetus of the future. Routine usage of some over the counter medications, prescription medications and vitamins needs to be reviewed to avoid inadvertent fetal toxicity. Some acne medications or high vitamin A consumption cause problems in the early phases of fetal development.

All phases of pregnancy require optimal nutrition of the mother, it is important to obtain an optimal nutritional balance prior to pregnancy to be prepared for the fetal developmental needs.  The National Academy of Sciences recommended for the first time on April 7th that large segments of the population take vitamins. All women of childbearing age should take a daily folic acid supplement to cut the risk of serious birth defects, and all older adults should take daily vitamin B12 supplements to guard against anemia, the academy recommended. Both vitamins are available naturally in foods. Yet, the academy took this step because even people who eat a well-balanced diet may have difficulty getting all the nutrients they need from food alone. "Research over the past decade strongly indicates that women capable of becoming pregnant should eat a varied diet and also take extra folic acid, especially in the month just prior to conception and the first month of pregnancy," said Roy M. Pitkin, chairman of the academy committee that wrote the guidelines.

Although exercise during pregnancy is recommended and safe, certain guidelines to assure avoidance of dehydration or overheating is important. Certain types of exercise may be hazardous in the very early stages of fetal development. Number one cause of mental retardation in the US is alcohol usage during pregnancy. The incidence of pre-term labor, low birth weight and Sudden Death Syndrome is significantly increased in infants of mothers who smoke. Thinking of having a baby? Have the potential of becoming pregnant? Just married?...Then plan a preconception care visit to evaluate your present state of health, habits and immunizations needs. Source: Lilly Update (Eli Lilly & Company).

Sreenivasarao Vepachedu, 04/13/98

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