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Prenatal Care Key to Healthy Pregnancy

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Having a baby is one of the most glorious moments in many peoples’ lives, and having a healthy pregnancy is one of the best ways to promote a healthy birth.

“Prenatal care can reduce the risk of complications both during pregnancy and for the newborn,” says Benjamin Hakakha, M.D., chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Antelope Valley Hospital (AVH). “Statistics show that babies of mothers who do not get prenatal care are three times more likely to have a low birth weight and far more likely to encounter health problems than those born to mothers who do get care.”

Prenatal visits to a healthcare provider include a physical exam, weight checks and monitoring the baby’s heartbeat. Depending on the stage of the pregnancy, doctors may also do blood tests and imaging tests, such as ultrasound exams. Some tests are suggested for all women while other tests might be offered based on age, personal or family health history, or ethnic background. Most importantly Dr. Hakakha says “Doctors can talk to pregnant women about things they can do to give their unborn babies a healthy start to life.”

While each pregnancy is different, Dr. Hakakha offers a few suggestions for all expectant mothers:

  1. If possible work with your physician to manage chronic conditions before becoming pregnant, which may include switching to medications that are safe to take during pregnancy.
  2. Follow a healthy, safe diet. Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, calcium-rich foods, and foods low in saturated fat. And drink plenty of water.
  3. Unless your doctor tells you not to, try to get moderate aerobic activity. If you exercised regularly before pregnancy, you can keep up your activity level as long as your health doesn’t change and you talk to your doctor about your activity level throughout your pregnancy.
  4. Control existing conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, depression, obesity, thyroid disease or epilepsy. Be sure your vaccinations are up to date.
  5. Get plenty of sleep, and find ways to control stress.
  6. Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol, which have been shown to significantly increase health risks for the newborn, including the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Ask your doctor if you need help quitting.
  7. Be sure that all of the medications you are taking are safe, as certain medicines, including some acne treatments and dietary and herbal supplements, should not be taken during pregnancy. But not using medicines you need could also be harmful. Ask your doctor before stopping any medicines or starting any new ones.
  8. Don't miss any of your prenatal visits – they are all important. Doctors can monitor your pregnancy, answer your questions, and spot and treat health problems early when they see mothers regularly.

In addition to prenatal care, Dr. Hakakha says that the expectant mother should consider what kind of “birthing experience” she is seeking. Antelope Valley Hospital, for example, each year welcomes more than 5,400 babies into the world through its spacious and modern Women and Infants Pavilion, a home-like atmosphere that includes 39 private rooms as well as a state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care unit and three surgery suites. As a result, AVH has been designated a “Baby-Friendly Birth Facility,” a prestigious recognition signifying that AVH has met the gold standard in maternity care operations and supports breastfeeding and mother/baby bonding.

AVH also offers couplet care, which places healthy newborns in the same room with their mothers until both go home. A single nurse attends to the needs of both mom and baby. Rooms in the Women and Infants Pavilion include extra sleeping accommodations that allow the new mother’s partner to remain with the mother and baby during their entire hospital stay.

“Whether this is your first pregnancy or your fourth,” continues Dr. Hakakha, “expectant mothers should do everything they can make it a wonderful time for the family and to welcome a healthy baby into the world.”