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How Do I Ensure a Healthy Pregnancy and Baby?

Even though pregnancy is a natural process, parents-to-be strive to stay up-to-date on the latest medical news regarding this incredible and life-changing event. While the parents’ genetics play a role in the healthy development of a fetus, lifestyle choices can also affect pregnancy and baby. Cheryl Sanders, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist and member of the Torrance Memorial Physician Network who practices at the Women’s Center of Redondo Beach/Manhattan Beach, answers some of the top questions expectant parents ask.

Q: If a woman suspects she is pregnant, do you recommend she conducts a home pregnancy test, and if so, when?

A: Home pregnancy tests are readily available but if they are done too early, they can give false results including false positives. I recommend waiting until the date of the first known missed period to do one.

Q: When should a woman schedule an appointment with an obstetrician if she suspects she is pregnant?

A: If a mom is otherwise healthy, I typically like the first visit to be six to eight weeks into her pregnancy. However, if mom has a history of previous pregnancy difficulties or is not healthy due to other conditions, then I want to see her sooner.

Q: What types of tests are typically ordered by an obstetrician during pregnancy, and when are they usually done?

A: The routine tests done early on are: Blood typing, Rh factor, CBC (complete blood count), anemia screening, German measles, HIV, hepatitis B, syphilis, chicken pox antibodies, thyroid and hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), which is a screening for diabetes. More tests are performed later in the pregnancy such as general sequential genetic screenings. Also, if mom or dad is a suspected or known carrier for certain conditions such cystic fibrosis or other genetic conditions, tests would be done for those, too. We cannot change genetic abnormalities if they exist—but it’s important for parents to have this information.

Q: What dietary specifics do you advise?

A: Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Limit intake of fatty foods and maintain a normal weight. A physician’s recommendations regarding weight gain allowed during pregnancy is based on mom’s weight when she became pregnant.

Q: What is gestational diabetes?

A: Pregnancy hormones affect the way the body reacts to insulin; this in turn affects blood sugar levels. Some women’s blood sugar levels become too high and they develop gestational diabetes. If a mom’s initial HbA1c is high, we treat her as having gestational diabetes. The good news is that most moms revert back to normal after they give birth. If mom’s initial HbA1c is normal, the next test done regarding glucose is between the 24th to 28th weeks of pregnancy when we run a GTT (glucose tolerance test). If this result is normal then we are generally done assessing for gestational diabetes.

Q: How can a pregnant woman reduce her risk of developing gestational diabetes?

A: Watching her weight, eating a healthy diet and keeping carbohydrate intake less than 40% of total dietary intake can help reduce the risk. Having gestational diabetes increases a mom’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later, so maintaining these habits after pregnancy can help reduce that risk, too.

Q: What is preeclampsia?

A: Preeclampsia is technically pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure) along with other changes that affect the organs such as the liver, kidneys and the blood clotting process. Some moms develop mild hypertension without other changes but when abnormal labs occur along with hypertension, it indicates organs are being negatively affected and is considered preeclampsia.

Q: Given that preeclampsia can be life threatening for mom and baby, are there steps a woman can take to reduce her chances of developing it?

A: First, remain vigilant and follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding lab tests, blood pressure checks and office visits. We don’t have enough concrete information as to why some women develop it and others don’t. We do know that it occurs more frequently in first pregnancies, toward the end of the pregnancy and in older moms.

Q: What other advice would you like to share?

A: Pregnancy can be 40 weeks of sheer bliss or 40 weeks of sheer terror. The most important things are to remain flexible and vigilant. The good news is that most of the time, mother and baby will be healthy and do just fine.