Most women only get to know that their babies are suffering from the consequences of their decisions when it’s too late. The diet and lifestyle choices of a pregnant woman affects not only her but also the little baby(ies) inside her. Children may suffer from heart defects, brain malformations, stunted growth, low birth weight, blindness, deafness and many more disorders, all due to poor lifestyle choices or drugs taken by the mother during pregnancy.
The good news is that these conditions are preventable. Pregnancies should be preferably planned. Not only that, every woman should also know the do’s and dont’s even before getting pregnant.
Here are a few tips for everyone planning to conceive:
Try as much as possible to plan your pregnancies. The truth is a large percentage of pregnancies are unplanned. Unfortunately, the period where the fetus (baby in the womb) is most vulnerable to teratogens (things that can cause malformation of a fetus) is very early in the pregnancy between the 3rd and the 8th week. Many women do not even know they are pregnant at this time. So, they do not have a chance to stop those dangerous habits like smoking and drinking significant quantities of alcohol or drugs like anti-convulsants.
To plan your pregnancy, keep your menstrual cycle calendar to know your ovulation period. A woman’s most fertile period is usually two days before and two days after her ovulation. You ovulate 14 days after the day you started your menstruation. Ovulation symptoms you may experience are, breast tenderness, elevated basal body temperature, thinner and clearer cervical mucus, increase sexual drive, your vulva or vagina may appear opened.
Avoid smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol during pregnancy. These have both been shown to cause birth defects like the fetal alcohol syndrome, defects of the lips and mouth. They can also cause low birth weight, preterm deliveries and other complications of pregnancy. They have also been linked to an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, growth abnormalities and behavioural disorders, which are not reversible.
Ensure your drugs are vetted by her doctor or pharmacist. The list of drugs that can cause birth defects is extensive. So, women trying to conceive or pregnant women should not take drugs without a doctor’s prescription.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being underweight (BMI <18.5) or overweight (BMI >30) has its risks. The former can cause intrauterine growth restriction while the latter increases the risk of gestational diabetes and hypertension.
Keep chronic diseases in check. Ensure that your sugar or blood pressure is well controlled if you are diabetic or hypertensive.
Take prenatal vitamins. Vitamin intake should be increased, especially, folic acid which is important in the prevention of neural tube defects (defect involving the brain and spinal cord), particularly for women taking certain medications. Note that these vitamins should be started prenatally, that is, before pregnancy.
Dr Odusanya Bilikisu Oluwaseun, is a medical doctor and a graduate of Olabisi Onabanjo university, Ogun state, Nigeria.
She is a poet, reader and researcher, with keen interest in Global health, and management with emphasis on how these affects maternal and child health.
She has a good qualitative and quantitative data analysis skills. A high standing academic track record, and communicates fluently in English, Yoruba, and Hausa.