Tag Archive | health

Benefits of Daily Probiotics

goodbacteriaProbiotics are beneficial bacteria that help maintain the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines between harmful and beneficial bacteria and work to remove toxins from the body. The normal human digestive tract contains about 400 types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. The largest group of probiotic bacteria in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria, of which Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yogurt with live cultures, is the best known. Yeast is also a probiotic substance.

Probiotics promote healthy digestion by providing beneficial bacteria to recolonize and balance the GI tract, and hinder the growth of harmful, toxic bacteria, while also promoting a healthy immune system.

Probiotics may seem new to the food and supplement industry, but they have been with us from our first breath. During a vaginal birth while the newborn passes through the birth canal, a newborn picks up bacteria from his/her mother. These good bacteria are not transmitted when a Cesarean section is performed and have been shown to be the reason why some infants born by Cesarean section have allergies, less than optimal immune systems, and lower levels of gut microflora.

What are probiotics used for?
Some people use probiotics to prevent diarrhea, gas, and cramping caused by antibiotics. Antibiotics kill “good” (beneficial) bacteria along with the bacteria that cause illness. A decrease in beneficial bacteria may lead to digestive problems. Taking probiotics may help replace the lost beneficial bacteria. This can help prevent diarrhea.

A decrease in beneficial bacteria may also lead to other infections, such as vaginal yeast and urinary tract infections, and symptoms such as diarrhea from intestinal illnesses.

Probiotics may also be used to:

• Help with other causes of diarrhea.

• Help prevent infections in the digestive tract.

• Help control immune response (inflammation), as in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Poor food choices, emotional stress, lack of sleep, antibiotic overuse, other drugs, and environmental influences can all shift the balance in favor of the bad bacteria.

When using probiotics, the idea is not to kill off all of the bad bacteria. Our body does have a need for the bad ones and the good ones. The problem is when the balance is shifted to have more bad than good. An imbalance has been associated with diarrhea, urinary tract infections, muscle pain, and fatigue.

Maintaining the correct balance between the “good” bacteria and the “bad” bacteria is necessary for optimal health.

When the digestive tract is healthy, it filters out and eliminates things that can damage it, such as harmful bacteria, toxins, chemicals, and other waste products. On the flip side, it takes in the things that our body needs (nutrients from food and water) and absorbs and helps deliver them to the cells where they are needed.

The other way that probiotics help is the impact that they have on our immune system. Some believe that this role is the most important. Our immune system is our protection against germs. When it doesn’t function properly, we can suffer from allergic reactions, autoimmune disorders (for example, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis), and infections (for example, infectious diarrhea, Helicobacter pylori, skin infections, and vaginal infections). By maintaining the correct balance from birth, the hope would be to prevent these ailments. Our immune system can benefit anytime that balanced is restored, so it’s never too late.

Probiotics convert the fiber in food into healthy fatty acids that nourish the cells that line the intestines. They also help the intestines make short-chain fatty acids, which contribute to the overall health of the body.

Benefits of Probiotics in Pregnancy
Many women suffer from digestive issues, such as heartburn, diarrhea, constipation and intestinal cramps, during pregnancy. Probiotics help relieve constipation and other intestinal issues by improving gastrointestinal function. The healthy bacteria can also improve the immune system of both the mother and baby during pregnancy. Probiotics can help you fight off or avoid colds and other illnesses, which is essential during pregnancy due to a suppressed immune system. Taking probiotics during pregnancy may also help prevent allergies and eczema in both mothers and infants.

A study performed by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology discovered a lasting impact on babies whose mothers took probiotics during pregnancy. According to this study, babies and toddlers up to 2 years old were 40 percent less likely to suffer from eczema compared to babies whose mothers did not drink probiotics. Additionally, babies who did experience eczema had less severe cases. This study, which was published in the “British Journal of Dermatology,” highlights the effectiveness in preventing eczema in children and did not indicate any adverse risks to the mother or baby.

References
Parenting; Ask Dr Sears: Probiotics During Pregnancy?; William Sears;
http://alturl.com/354h8
Pregnancy Today; Probiotics and Pregnancy; Teri Brown
Colorado State University Extension; Food Safety During Pregnancy; J. Dean & P. Kendall; December 2006
San Mateo Medical Center; Acidophilus and Other Probiotics; 2011

The Importance of Healthy Nutrition Throughout Your Pregnancy

Adequate nutrition during your preconception and prenatal periods is important for a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. Achieving a normal body mass index (BMI) prior to your pregnancy as well as improving your nutritional status prior to and during your pregnancy can lower your risk of pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. Remember, you are not eating for two; you only need to increase your calorie intake by 300-500 calories. You should gain weight gradually during your pregnancy, with most of the weight gained in the last trimester.

Read your food labels! What are you consuming to help with your baby’s growth?  Food labels will tell you what nutrients are in the foods you eat. The letters RDA, which you find on food labeling, stand for recommended daily allowance, or the amount of a nutrient recommended for your daily diet. When you’re pregnant, the RDAs for most nutrients are higher.

Pregnant women need a balanced diet including:

  • Whole grains: Breads, cereals, pastas and brown rice.
  • Fruits: All types of fruits, fresh, frozen or canned without added sugar.
  • Vegetables: Eat a variety of colorful vegetables, fresh, frozen or canned with no added salt. Raw sprouts should be avoided.
  • Lean protein: Choose lean protein from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and peas, peanut butter, soy products and nuts. Pregnant women should avoid eating tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel, and limit white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces per week. Deli, luncheon meats and hot dogs should be reheated if consumed.
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy: This includes milk, cheese and yogurt. Unpasteurized milk and some soft cheeses that are made from unpasteurized milk should also be avoided.
  • Healthful fats: Vegetable oils including canola, corn, peanut and olive oil are good choices.

Avoid extra calories from added sugar and fats, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Cut down on foods such as regular soda, sweets and fried snacks. These are empty calories and of no nutritional value.

Key Nutrients for Healthy Pregnancy

  • Folate/Folic Acid: Folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects that affect the spinal cord. All women of childbearing age and pregnant women should consume 800 micrograms of folic acid each day. Sources include fortified foods such as cereals, pastas and breads, supplements and natural food sources of folate, including legumes, green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits.
  • Iron: Maternal iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency during pregnancy.  A pregnant woman needs 27 milligrams a day. Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues. During pregnancy your blood volume expands to accommodate changes in your body and help your baby make his or her entire blood supply, doubling your need for iron.

If you don’t get enough iron, you may become fatigued and more susceptible to infections. The risk of preterm delivery and low birth weight also might be higher.

Foods with high and moderate amounts of iron include red meat, chicken and fish, fortified cereals, spinach, some leafy greens and beans. For vegetarians and women who do not eat a lot of meat, increase iron absorption by combining plant-based sources of iron with vitamin C-rich foods. For example, try spinach salad with mandarin oranges or cereal with strawberries.

  • Calcium: During pregnancy, calcium is needed for the healthy development of a baby’s teeth, bones, heart, nerves and muscles. When a pregnant woman does not consume enough calcium, it is taken from her bones for the baby. It is important to consume adequate amounts of calcium daily before, during and after pregnancy. The recommended amount of calcium during pregnancy is 1,000 milligrams per day for adolescents 14 to 18 years old and 1,300 milligrams per day for women aged 19 to 50. That means at least three daily servings of calcium-rich foods such as low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or cheese or calcium-fortified cereals and juices.

Vitamin D Promotes bone strength and helps build your baby’s bones and teeth.  Fatty fish, such as salmon, is a great source of vitamin D.  Other options include fortified milk and orange juice.

There has been many studies recently revealing how common it is women of childbearing age are either insufficient or deficient in their levels of Vitamin D. This can cause an adverse outcome in pregnancy if not addressed.  Your vitamin D3 level should be > 40 ng/ml for a healthy pregnancy and for breastfeeding. Ask your healthcare provider to include your 25-OH-D concentrations of your Vitamin D level in your initial prenatal lab work.

Prenatal vitamins currently contain only 400 IU of Vitamin D3 which is inadequate.

 Protein is crucial for your baby’s growth, especially during the second and third trimesters. You need 71 grams/day. Good sources of protein include: Lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs are great sources of protein. Other options include dried beans and peas, tofu, dairy products, and peanut butter.

When you look at your food choices on your plate, you should have a variety of color!

Fine-tuning your eating habits to ensure you are receiving adequate nutrition for the health of you and your baby is key. Healthy eating during pregnancy is critical for a healthy pregnancy, healthy mom and baby!

Shelia L. Kirkbride,  MS, NC, VE.

 

colorfulplate

References:

Mayo clinic.org-Nutrients in pregnancy

maternal vitamin D supplementation reduces the risk of premature birth

http://tinyurl.com/q83koe6

https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/newsletter/newsletter-pregnancy-and-gestational-vitamin-d-deficiency/

Building a Strong Foundation for Your Pregnancy

Contemplating pregnancy?  Nutritional and optimal health should be priority number one!  Women contemplating pregnancy must keep in mind that healthy eating habits and healthy lifestyle behaviors should be established before pregnancy to make sure proper nutrient levels for early embryo development and growth.

Eating a balanced diet that includes the proper amount servings of protein, grains, fruit, and vegetables is key. Protein is essential to the very foundation of your baby’s growth. Eating enough protein ensures that your little one, from the very beginning, is getting adequate food stores to support cell growth and blood production.  Regular exercise should also be incorporated in your daily routine to prepare your body for the demands of pregnancy. Habits such as drinking or smoking must be avoided to allow for optimal health and development of the child during pregnancy and after birth.  Good habits should  include taking a daily multivitamin or a daily prenatal vitamin.  Even if you are consuming healthy foods daily, you can miss out on key nutrients.  A daily prenatal vitamin — ideally starting three months before conception — can help fill any gaps.  A quality, fast absorbing prenatal vitamin is necessary for all the basic micronutrients needed during pregnancy.eat-well-teaser

Through the course of pregnancy there is an increased need for nutrients and calories to make sure proper fetal growth. The increased need for vitamins and minerals such as folate, calcium and iron is necessary to prevent birth defects, ensure proper bone formation/retention, and to reduce the risks of preeclampsia or anemia. Folic acid intake increases to a daily amount of 800 mcg, calcium to 1200 mg, and iron to 30 mg. Your Vitamin D levels should be checked with your initial prenatal labs to be sure you levels are not insufficient or deficient.  Fetal needs for vitamin D increase during the latter half of pregnancy, when bone growth and ossification are most prominent. Vitamin D travels to the fetus by passive transfer, and the fetus is entirely dependent on maternal stores. Your body needs vitamin D to maintain proper levels of calcium and phosphorus, which help build your baby’s bones and teeth. A vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can cause growth retardation and skeletal deformities. It may also have an impact on birth weight.  Therefore, maternal status is a direct reflection of fetal nutritional status.

Researchers believe that a vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can affect bone development and immune function from birth through adulthood.

Blog by Shelia Kirkbride

Best Exercises for Your Pregnancy

yogamomCongratulations on your pregnancy! Now you can sit back, relax and put your feet up for the next nine months, right? Not so fast! Attitudes and beliefs about prenatal exercise have drastically changed over the past twenty years. No longer is pregnancy viewed as a time to sit, watch TV and each chocolate. These days, moms can actually maintain and improve their fitness levels while pregnant. And exercise provides many numerous benefits such as a boost in your mood and energy levels, helps you sleep better, helps prevent excess weight gain and increases your stamina and muscle strength. You cannot lose!

Regular exercise during your pregnancy can improve not only your heart health and boost your energy, but improve your overall health. Maintaining a healthy body and healthy weight gain can help reduce common pregnancy complaints and discomforts like lower back pain, fatigue and constipation and can even help with shortening your time during labor by strengthening your endurance.

First, consult your health care provider if it is okay to exercise. If you have been participating in a regular exercise regimen and are having a healthy pregnancy, there should not be a problem continuing with your regimen in moderation. You may have to modify your exercise according to your trimester of pregnancy.

If you have not participated in an exercise regimen three times a week before getting pregnant, do not jump into a new, strenuous activity. Start out with a low-intensity activity and gradually move to a higher activity level.

The best type of exercise during pregnancy:
• Increases your heart rate steadily and improves your heart circulation
• keeps you flexible and limber
• manages your weight gain by burning calories
• prepares your muscles for labor and birth
• won’t cause you to push your body too hard

Research shows that healthy pregnant women who exercise during their pregnancy may have less risk of preterm labor and birth and a shorter labor process, are less likely to need pain relief, and recover from childbirth faster.

Regular, moderate exercise not only gives you a healthier pregnancy, it may give your baby a healthier start. Research shows that when pregnant women exercise, their developing babies have a much lower heart rate. Babies of active moms may also have a healthier birth weight. Experts recommend that you exercise for 30 minutes a day, on most days. Most exercises are safe to perform during pregnancy, as long as you exercise with caution and do not overdo it.

Your pregnancy exercise regimen should strengthen and condition your muscles. Always begin by warming up for five minutes and stretching for five minutes. Following your choice of exercise, finish your regimen with five to ten minutes of gradually slower exercise that ends with gentle stretching.

The safest and most productive activities to perform during your pregnancy are brisk walking, swimming, indoor stationary cycling, prenatal yoga and low-impact aerobics (taught by a certified aerobics instructor). These activities carry little risk of injury, benefit your entire body, and can be continued until the birth of your baby. Other activities such as jogging can be done in moderation. You might want to choose exercises or activities that do not require great balance or coordination, especially later in your pregnancy.

Use common sense:
• Avoid exercising that involves lying on your stomach or flat on your back after the first trimester of pregnancy.
• Stay well hydrated and drink plenty of fluids before, during and after you exercise.
• Avoid overheating and humidity, especially during the first trimester when the fetus is undergoing its most important growth and development.
• Stop exercising if you feel fatigued, develop persistent pain or experience any vaginal bleeding; check with your healthcare provider if regular contractions occur more than 30 minutes after exercise (possibly a sign of pre-term labor).
• Avoid heavy weightlifting and any activities that require straining.
• Avoid exposure to extremes of air pressure, as in high altitude exercise (unless you’re accustomed to it) or scuba diving.
• Do not increase the intensity of your workout beyond pre-pregnancy intensity level
• Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day. Sedentary pregnant women need about 3,000 calories per day during the second and third trimesters; if you are physically active, your caloric needs will be higher to make up for the calories burned up during your exercise regimen.

Basic exercise guidelines:
• Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes, as well as a good support bra
• Choose shoes that are designed for the type of exercise you choose. Proper shoes are your best protection against injury
• Exercise on a flat, level surface to avoid injury
• Finish eating at least one hour before exercising
• Get up slowly and gradually to prevent dizziness
• Never exercise to the point of exhaustion. If you cannot talk normally while exercising, you are probably over exerting yourself, and you should slow down your activity.

Physical changes during your pregnancy will create extra demands on your body. Keeping in mind the changes listed below, remember you need to listen to your body and adjust your activities or exercise regimen as necessary.
• Your developing baby and other internal changes require more oxygen and energy.
• Hormones (relaxin) produced during pregnancy cause the ligaments that support your joints to stretch, increasing the risk of injury.
• The extra weight and the uneven distribution of your weight alters your center of gravity. The extra weight also puts stress on joints and muscles in the lower back and pelvic area, and makes it easier for you to lose your balance

If you have any medical condition, such as asthma, heart disease, hypertension or diabetes, exercise may not be advisable. Again, consult with your health care provider before beginning any exercise regimen.

Exercise may also be harmful if you have a pregnancy-related condition such as:
• vaginal Bleeding or spotting
• Low placenta (low-lying or placenta previa)
• Threatened or history of recurrent miscarriage
• Previous premature births or history of early labor
• Weak cervix

Talk with your health care provider before beginning any exercise program. Your health care provider can also suggest personal exercise guidelines, based on your medical history.

Stop exercising and consult your healthcare provider if you:
• Feel pain
• Have abdominal, chest, or pelvic pain
• Notice an absence of fetal movement
• Feel faint, dizzy, nauseous, or light-headed
• Feel cold or clammy
• Have vaginal bleeding
• Have a sudden gush of fluid from the vagina or a trickle of fluid that leaks steadily (when your bag of “water” breaks, also called rupture of the amniotic membrane)
• Notice an irregular or rapid heartbeat
• Have sudden swelling in your ankles, hands, face, or experience calf pain
• Have increased shortness of breath
• Have persistent contractions that continue after rest
• Have difficulty walking

Regular exercise will keep you and your baby healthy while staying fit, and enjoying your pregnancy!

Written by: Angel J. Miller, MSN, CNM, certified nurse-midwife, Midwifery Service Director, Washington, D.C. Area and co-author: Nine Months In ~ Nine Months Out.
References
Miller, Angel, Kelly, Stacia, Kirkbride, Shelia, Matthews, Corry. Nine Months In ~ Nine Months Out. Sterling, Va. Ironcutter Media, 2011.
http://www.webmd.com/baby/exercise-during-pregnancy
http://kidshealth.org/parent/index.jsp?tracking=P_Home
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-and-exercise/art-20046896

Choosing Your Pediatrician for Your Baby

presented by Angel J. Miller, MSN, CNM

The following is an excerpt of a chapter from the book Raising Your Child in Washington, DC, a resource for parents available in local bookstores.   by Dr. Michele R. Berman

One of the most important tasks a parent must undertake is the selection of a pediatrician for their baby or older child.  Besides being a place to take a sick child, or a place to get “baby shots,” a pediatrician’s office is an important resource for new or experienced parents.  Today, many families find themselves without the traditional support systems that their own parents had available to them.  Family members are often separated by many miles.  For these families, the pediatrician provides advice and encouragement, as well as basic child-care knowledge.  Many pediatricians see patients from birth through adolescence, so picking the right pediatrician may well be the beginning of a “long term relationship.”

Pediatrics, in general, is a preventive health care specialty.  Well-care visits provide the framework of information to keep your child happy and healthy.  A typical well-care visit starts with weighing and measuring the child and plotting those measurements on a growth chart to follow their progress.  The pediatrician will then ask several questions about your child’s eating, sleeping, and bowel habits, and about what new developmental milestones have been passed.  Then it’s your turn to ask the doctor about any questions or concerns you may have.   Write them down as you think of them at home, and bring the list with you.  After examining the child, the pediatrician may discuss a variety of topics, such as immunizations, safety issues, or behavior issues.  Some will also have handouts to supplement the discussion.  On average, there are seven well visits in the first year, three in the second year, and one every one to two years thereafter.

The Prenatal Appointment

If this is your first child, the decision as to who the baby’s pediatrician will be should be made well in advance of your due date.  (Remember – babies often come earlier than expected!)  This allows the pediatrician you choose to give your newborn its very first exam in the hospital, and to support you during those joyful, yet overwhelming first days.  Although all pediatricians are dedicated to helping you raise healthy, happy children, each has his or her own approach.  You will, therefore, want to meet with several pediatricians so that you can pick the one with whom you feel most comfortable and whose approach is most consistent with your own ideas about child raising.

Most pediatricians encourage parents to come for a prenatal appointment.  This is your opportunity not only to meet the pediatrician but look at the office itself.  If possible, both parents should be present, so you will both agree on your choice.  When you set up the visit, find out who you will be seeing (one or more doctors? Office staff?), about how long it will last, and if there is a charge for the visit.  If the visit consists of a quick hello by the pediatrician while the office staff shows you around, there may not be a fee.  However, there may be a charge if the pediatrician sets aside a block of time specifically to talk with you and answer any questions you have.  Many insurance companies will pay for this, but check with your plan first.

During the interview you should first find out about how the practice works.  What are the office hours?  Do they include evening or weekend hours?  How are after-hours calls handled?  Who are the doctors in the practice and what are their qualifications?  Can you see any of the doctors in the group, or are you assigned to one doctor?  How far in advance do you have to call to get a well child appointment?  A sick child appointment?  To what hospitals do the doctors admit their patients?  Do the doctors come to the hospital where you are delivering?  Who handles phone calls during the day and after hours?  What is the schedule of visits and immunizations?  Most pediatricians follow the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics for these.

Secondly, try to get a feel for the pediatrician’s personality.  How does he/she respond to your questions?  Does he/she seem open to your concerns or does he/she seem to shrug them off?  Are they stiff or relaxed?  Distracted?  Do they have a good sense of humor?  Observe how he/she interacts with the patients that may be in the office at the time of your visit.  The feelings you get during your visit will set the time for the relationship you will develop with the pediatrician you choose.  You want to feel comfortable and confident about someone who is going to help you take care of that special baby of yours.

Ask the pediatrician questions about topics such as: What is their thoughts about circumcision, breast feeding, or the use of antibiotics or other medications?  If you are going to breastfeed, what kind of support can they give you?  What is their philosophy about the role of a pediatrician?

Lastly, look around the office.  Does it seem inviting to children?  Are there things for the children to do if they have to wait to see the doctor?  Will older children and adolescents also feel comfortable here?  Are there ways to separate sick from well children?  What kind of feelings do you get about the office staff?  The nursing staff and front desk personnel are also important in making a trip to the doctor a pleasant experience.

Looking for Dr. Right

So, where do you find your dream pediatrician?  There are several ways.  First, ask your friends and neighbors who they use.  Are they happy there?  What do they like about the office?  Is there anything they don’t like?  Next, ask your nurse-midwife for a list of pediatricians they frequently recommend and on whom they have gotten positive feedback.  Your internist, family practitioner and other medical professionals can also be good resources.

Increasingly, families find themselves as part of health plans that limit their choices to physicians who are members of the plan.  In this instance, start with the list provided by the health plan and see which physicians are available in your area.  Then ask the resources listed above what they know about those physicians.  Make an appointment with the pediatricians you’d like to know more about.

Pediatrician’s fees may vary widely.  Don’t be afraid to ask about fees before you go to the office.  Ask if you will have to pay for services at the time of the visit, or whether they will bill you or submit the insurance claim for you.  If you are a member of a health plan, and the pediatrician is a provider for that plan, they will file for you, but you must usually pay a small co-payment at each visit.  Look at your health plan or insurance coverage carefully.  Not all insurance plans cover well-child care, or you may have to meet a deductible, or they may only cover a certain number of well visits.  For these financial matters, it’s best to know what the office policies are before you get there.  If you anticipate a problem with payments, many offices will work with you, as long as you talk to them up front.

As mentioned earlier, many families find themselves using the same pediatrician for many years, so you want to choose one with whom you feel comfortable, and in whom you have confidence.  Shop around.  Ask questions.  Use and trust your instincts.  Remember, your decision does not have to be a final one.  If you are unhappy with your choice, there are many other fine physicians in the area.  Good luck, and happy parenting!

Dr.Berman practiced pediatrics in the Washington, D.C. area until the year 2000 She currently is co-founder with her husband of www.celebritydiagnosis.com.

Preconceptional Counseling and Care

Becoming a parent is a major commitment in life. It can be met with challenges, rewards and informed choices. Before you conceive, be sure to incorporate a healthy life-style to ensure optimal health for mom and baby. Receiving pre-conceptional counseling and care can lay the ground work for a healthy lifestyle and healthy pregnancy. Good health before pregnancy can help you cope with the stress of pregnancy, labor and birth. Obtaining good health care before you conceive will help you throughout your pregnancy. It also provides you with the opportunity to find out your risks, treat any medical problems that may affect the outcome of your pregnancy and adopt or continue a healthy lifestyle.

If you are planning to conceive, schedule a pre-conceptional visit with your healthcare provider. Included in your visit is a comprehensive history of your health including: Family history and risk factors, your medical history, surgical history, medications that you are presently taking including vitamins, supplements, OTC (over-the-counter) meds; your diet and lifetstyle and any past pregnancies.

Your preconception visit is a time for you to ask questions. Do not hesitate to seek advice, discuss your concerns and your options. Your healthcare provider is there to provide information and guidance to help you make informed choices in your healthcare to help you obtain and maintain a healthy pregnancy.

Women who are planning to conceive should stop their form of birth control several months in advance. Even though methods vary in use, it may affect when your menses resumes and becomes regular. During this time you may also want to start taking a prenatal vitamin daily to ensure you are getting added vitamins and increased folic acid.

Your lifestyle includes diet, exercise, weight, substance use, living/working environment and infection history. Current immunizations are important to prevent any infections during your pregnancy that can harm you and your baby, even if you were vaccinated as a child (measles, mumps, rubella, polio, tetanus), you may not be immune now. If you are vaccinated prior to conceiving, you will be protected. The vaccine for mumps, measles and especially rubella should be given at least 3 months
prior to conceiving. During this period of time, you should use a reliable method birth control.

Optimal health at any time during your lifetime involves a healthy diet and the proper amount of exercise. Ideally, you should be in good physical shape and follow a regular exercise regimen before your conceive. If you are not used to being active, you should start an exercise program gradually.

Tobacco, alcohol and recreational (illegal) drug use is addictive and can harm you and your baby that can last a lifetime or even result in death. They can have detrimental affects on the organ formation, causing damage. The misuse of prescription medication can also harm the fetus. For the sake of your own health and that of your baby, now is a good time to cut back on smoking and alcohol and quit all recreational drugs. It takes time and patience to quit a habit, especially if you have had that particular habit for a long time. Ask your healthcare provider to suggest ways to get through the withdrawal state or quitting and to refer you to support groups. Your decision to quit may be one of the hardest things you have ever done, but it will be one of the most worthwhile.

Does your work environment impose any hazards? If you are trying to conceive, it is a good idea to look closely at your work place and surroundings. Are you exposed to toxic substances, chemicals, or radiation? Discuss your level of exposure to specific substances with your employee health division, personnel office or union representative.

Exposure to lead or certain solvents, pesticides or other chemicals can reduce your partner’s fertility by killing or damaging sperm. Unlike women, who are born with a complete supply of eggs for their entire lifespan, men make new sperm on a daily basis for most of their lives. Unless the damage to a man’s reproductive system is very serious, he will probably be able to make healthy sperm against a short time span after his exposure to the harmful material stops.

Questions to Consider…
• Do I or a member of my family have a disorder that could be inherited?
• Do I need to gain or lose weight to prepare for pregnancy?
• Should I make any changes in my lifestyle?
• Could any medications I am taking cause problems during my pregnancy?
• Can I continue my present exercise program?
• Does my work expose me to things that could be harmful during pregnancy?
• Do I need to be vaccinated for any infectious diseases before I try to conceive?

Depression in Pregnancy

Depression occurs almost as commonly in pregnant women as it does in non-pregnant women. While the increase in hormones is often blamed for many of the mood swings and other emotional and psychological occurrences in pregnancy, they are only one part of the puzzle when it comes to pregnancy and depression. For some women the stress of pregnancy brings on depressive symptoms, even when the pregnancy is planned. These feeling might intensify if the pregnancy is complicated or unplanned, or if life itself is stressful.

What factors increase my risk of being depressed in pregnancy?
• Having a history of depression or PMDD
• Age at time of pregnancy — the younger you are, the higher the risk
• Living alone
• Limited social support
• Marital conflict
• Ambivalence about the pregnancy

What is the impact of depression on pregnancy?
Depression can interfere with a woman’s ability to care for herself during her pregnancy. You may be less able to follow health recommendations, and sleep and eat properly; jeopardizing proper nutrition, sleep habits, exercise and following prenatal care instructions from your healthcare provider. Depression can put you at risk for increased use of substances that have a negative impact on pregnancy (tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs).

Depression may interfere with your ability to bond with your growing baby. A baby in the womb is able to recognize the mother’s voice and sense emotion by pitch, rhythm and stress. Pregnant women with depression may find it difficult to develop this bond and feel emotionally isolated and detached from their unborn child.

Many of the signs of depression can mimic pregnancy symptoms. It can be hard to determine what is normal fatigue in pregnancy and what is depression. This can lead to an underreporting of the problem to their healthcare provider. There is also a tendency of people to ignore depression in pregnancy simply because this is supposed to be “a happy time in their life,” and this includes the pregnant woman herself.

Signs of Depression
• Problems concentrating
• Problems with sleeping
• Fatigue
• Changes in eating habits
• Feeling anxious
• Irritability
• Feeling blue

How does pregnancy impact depression?
• The stresses of pregnancy can cause depression or a recurrence or worsening of depression symptoms.
• Depression during pregnancy can place you at risk for having an episode of depression after birth (postpartum depression).

Are there any other things I should know about?
Treatment during pregnancy involves several avenues. Developing your support network is extremely valuable. Having yourself surrounded by supportive individuals that you know can be beneficial, particularly if they have experienced the same feelings. Talking to a professional or psychotherapist can be very helpful, particularly since there are major physical, mental and emotional changes occurring during pregnancy. Medications can also be used during pregnancy under the care of a practitioner who has experience with using antidepressants and other medications during the course of pregnancy and breastfeeding.

So what are my options if I’m depressed during my pregnancy?
• Preparing for a new baby is lots of hard work, but your health should come first. Resist the urge to get everything done — cut down on your chores and do those things that will help you to relax. And remember, taking care of yourself is an essential part of taking care of your unborn child.
• Talking about the things that concern you is very important. Talk to your friends, your partner, and your family. If you ask for support, you’ll find that you often get it. If you are not finding relief from anxiety and depression by making these changes, seek your doctor’s advice or a referral to a mental health professional.

The key to preventing problems that stem from depression in pregnancy, which may also increase the likelihood of postpartum depression, is getting the support and help you need as soon as you realize that you are experiencing a problem. With more than two out of three pregnant women having depressive symptoms it’s important to recognize that you are not alone and that help is available. Talk to your healthcare provider if you are in need of help. Be open and honest with your concerns and realize there is help.

Angel J. Miller, MSN, CNM