Johannesburg - Pregnancy can be exciting but also daunting for first-time mothers.
Gynaecologist Dr Bronwyn Moore, who practises at Netcare Park Lane Hospital, says being anxious is natural and that mothers-to-be need to understand factors that are likely to affect their health and that of their baby.
As part of Reproductive Health Awareness Month, which is observed in February, Moore has shared some things for expectant mothers to look out for and stay healthy through their pregnancy.
“While it is natural for parents-to-be to feel somewhat anxious, understanding some of the factors that can affect the health of the mother and the unborn baby can greatly contribute in making this a most special time,” says Moore.
“Women who have chronic medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, hypertension (commonly known as high blood pressure), diabetes or epilepsy prior to falling pregnant will need to consult a healthcare professional about how best to manage their condition during pregnancy.”
Moore adds that during pregnancy, women should not stop taking their prescription medicine without the advice of their doctor.
“The type of medicine may need to be adjusted, opting for drugs that are safer for pregnancy. Pre-existing health conditions often require close monitoring during pregnancy, so it is important to ensure there is ongoing support from one’s healthcare professional,” Moore advises.
She says pregnancies can lead to certain medical conditions like gestational diabetes and gestational hypertension.
“Gestational diabetes occurs when a pregnant woman who was not diabetic before pregnancy develops high blood sugar during pregnancy as the body is unable to manage glucose appropriately. The condition is more common in the second half of pregnancy in women with a family history of diabetes and who start pregnancy overweight. Excessive weight gain in pregnancy is also a risk factor,” Moore notes.
She says some of the symptoms include thirst, fatigue and frequent urination, all of which are common symptoms in normal pregnancy.
Regular urine testing during pregnancy is important as it can catch the warning signs of gestational diabetes and you may have to have a glucose tolerance test at a lab.
Moore also warns that pregnant women are particularly sensitive to heat. She advises that they avoid taking hot baths and spending long periods of time in hot closed environments, as this could lead to a drop in blood pressure.
“Good nutrition and adequate hydration are essential for mother and unborn baby, although the old maxim that a pregnant woman is ‘eating for two’ should not be taken as licence to consume too many calories,” Moore says.
“During pregnancy, the volume of blood in the body increases, and for this reason, pregnant women require additional iron in their diets. Iron can be obtained either from a supplement or food sources, such as green leafy vegetables, red meat and beans. Most pregnancy multivitamins contain extra iron to meet the increased need. Consult your doctor before taking additional supplements because too much iron may be harmful,” she points out.
Moore also warns pregnant women not to eat raw protein, including raw or undercooked meat or fish, and foods or condiments made using raw eggs, including homemade mayonnaise or ice cream.
“Eggs should be thoroughly cooked and firm. Women who are pregnant should avoid shellfish, herbal teas, certain soft cheeses and * âtés, as well as alcohol, during pregnancy.
With the recent listeriosis outbreak in South Africa, it is even more important that proper food hygiene and hand hygiene be followed.
“Drink at least eight glasses of water every day. Fruit juices are high in sugar, and should only be consumed in moderation,” she adds.
Moore recommends pregnant women always consult a doctor before taking any medication including, but not limited to, so-called natural or homeopathic remedies, over-the-counter medications, supplements or even using topical lotions.
“Pregnancy should be a beautiful experience, and this time of preparation for motherhood is precious beyond measure. With a little caution, continuous support from your team of healthcare professionals and adequate rest, pregnancy need not be stressful.
"Enjoy this special time of closeness with your unborn baby, and take the time to prepare for the memorable day when you will take him or her home with you,” Moore says.