Preconception Care: How to be the Parent of a Healthy Infant
Becoming a parent is one of the best feelings in the world. A newborn baby brings a whole new world of happiness to her parents. That feeling can’t be described in words.
But sometimes, with pregnancy comes some unwanted complexities. Those dealing with miscarriage or infant death are deep down into the sea of sorrows.
Given the difficulty of the topic, it certainly deserves more attention and concern.
On October 25, 1988, President Ronald Reagan designated October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month as a remembrance for pregnancy loss and infant death.
And that is what makes preconception care an important topic of discussion. This blog, in an attempt to spread awareness about the health of women during pregnancy and of child during infancy, talks about preconception care in details in the following.
But before that here are a few facts that needs to be recognised.
- According to WHO, 4 out of 10 women report that their pregnancy was unplanned.
- Maternal undernutrition and iron-deficiency anaemia increase the risk of maternal death, accounting for at least 20% of maternal mortality worldwide.
- Perinatal deaths are 50% higher among children born to mothers under 20 years of age compared to mothers aged 20–29 years.
- Up to 35% of pregnancies among women with untreated gonococcal infections result in low birth weight infants and premature deliveries, and up to 10% result in perinatal death.
- In the absence of interventions, rates of HIV transmission from mother to child are between 15 and 45%.
- Women with epilepsy are at increased risk of having babies with congenital anomalies (both epilepsy and the medications given for its control may have adverse effects on the baby).
- Estimates indicate that eliminating smoking before or during pregnancy could avoid 5–7% of preterm-related deaths and 23–24% of cases of sudden infant death syndrome.
So, here’s what parents need to know to promote their infant’s health before the child is born.
Preconception care is the provision of biomedical, behavioural and social health interventions to women and couples before conception occurs. It aims at improving their health status, and reducing behaviours and individual and environmental factors that contribute to poor maternal and child health outcomes. Its ultimate aim is to improve maternal and child health, in both short and long terms.
Women can practice a healthy pregnancy leading to the birth of a healthy infant by taking the following steps before they become pregnant:
- Develop a plan for their reproductive life.
- Increase their daily intake of folic acid (one of the B vitamins) to at least 400 micrograms.
- Make sure their immunizations are up-to-date.
- Control their diabetes and other medical conditions.
- Avoid smoking, drinking, and drug use.
- Strive to get to a healthy weight.
- Learn about their family health history and that of their partner.
- Avoid stress by getting mentally healthy.
- It is also important that women contact their health care provider as soon as they think they might be pregnant. That way, they can confirm their pregnancy and schedule their first prenatal exam.
Prenatal care is the care a woman gets during pregnancy. Early and regular prenatal visits to a health care provider are important for the health of both the mother and her developing fetus. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women who do not seek prenatal care are three times more likely to deliver a low-birth-weight infant. Lack of prenatal care can also increase the risk of infant death.
Both the length of prenatal visits and what happens during these visits vary depending on the week of pregnancy. Generally, at each visit, women provide a urine sample, and a nurse checks their weight and blood pressure. They also meet their health care provider to discuss how their pregnancy is progressing.
Exercise During Pregnancy
For most women, ACOG recommends exercising 30 minutes or more each day during pregnancy. Exercise can help improve many unpleasant symptoms experienced by some women (such as bloating, swelling, and backaches). It may also improve women’s ability to cope with labor.
Exercise is an important way to prevent or treat gestational diabetes, a condition that poses risks to the developing fetus.
Usually, a pregnant woman’s health care provider will advise her to take a prenatal vitamin supplements. Pregnant women need more folic acid (a B vitamin) and certain other nutrients in their diet to help ensure that their infant is born healthy. Studies reveal that taking folic acid supplements during pregnancy can prevent neural tube defects.
The total amount of weight a woman should gain during pregnancy depends on her pre-pregnancy weight. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that pregnant women who were of normal weight before pregnancy increase their food intake by about 300 calories per day. Women whose weight was in the healthy range before becoming pregnant should gain between 25 and 35 pounds while pregnant.
Preparing for Baby’s Arrival
Since you and other members of the family are the main caregivers for your child, it is important for everyone to ensure that the child also receives regular health care. Infants need frequent checkups and vaccinations, as they sometimes get sick.
Before the infant is born, it is a good idea to choose a health care provider—a pediatrician, family physician, or pediatric nurse practitioner—who specializes in the care of infants and children.