Health Pregnancy Fact Sheet
What do we mean by "healthy pregnancy"?
- A pregnancy that lasts the full nine months
- A pregnancy that results in a healthy baby (or babies) weighing at least five and a half pounds who has no birth defects
- A pregnancy in which the mother feels well the whole nine months other than the normal discomforts such as morning sickness.
What outcomes do we worry about for the baby?
For the baby, the most common problem is low birth weight. A baby who is born weighing less than five and a half pounds is considered low birth weight. Low birth weight is the number one risk factor for death in the first year of life and for life-long health problems.
It can be caused by being born too early, by growing too slowly, or some of both.
Smoking by the mother is one of the main causes of poor growth, because it cuts down on the baby's supply of oxygen and food.
Poor nutrition, birth defects, genetic conditions, mother's health problems such as high blood pressure, hazards in the environment including lead or tobacco smoke, and multiple births (twins, triplets, etc.) may also cause low birth weight. In many cases, the exact cause of low birth weight is not known.
What can a woman do to help her have a healthy pregnancy?
The key to a healthy pregnancy is planning it in the first place. When pregnancies are planned, the mother-to-be can be in the best health possible and be ready for all the challenges of having a healthy baby and raising a family.
Most people don't think about birth control as a way to have a healthy baby, but it plays a key role by helping women plan the best time to have a baby.
When a woman is planning a pregnancy, she should be in the best health possible and should follow these guidelines:
- Take a multivitamin every day that has 400 mcg (0.4 mg) of folic acid. Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps prevent serious birth defects of the heart and brain. But it only helps if the mother takes it before pregnancy and in the first three months of pregnancy.
- Stop smoking. Get others at home and at work to stop smoking too to cut down on second-hand smoke.
- Stop drinking alcohol and/or using illegal drugs. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is one of the most common birth defects. Every case is preventable by not drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
- Have a pre-pregnancy health check-up with a doctor, midwife, or nurse practitioner. Women with chronic health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure and women who take medicines or herbs especially need pre-pregnancy care.
- Talk to your health care provider about the possible risk of lead poisoning. If lead gets into your body, it could harm you and your unborn baby.
What can a woman do after she gets pregnant to have a healthy pregnancy?
- Get prenatal care early. Go to all your regularly scheduled doctor appointments.
- Eat a well-balanced diet. Continue to take a multivitamin to be sure that mother and baby both get the nutrients they need.
- Gain enough weight, but not too much.
- Sign up for WIC, if you qualify. WIC provides extra food for pregnant and breastfeeding women and for infants and children. It also provides health education and support during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- Get help with causes of stress, including family violence or work and school problems. There are sources of help in every community: schools, clinics, community centers, churches, and other organizations.
- Take a childbirth class to learn more about having a healthy birth and a healthy baby.
- Talk to your doctor or midwife if you believe you might be exposed to lead from:
- paint chips or dust in apartments or houses built before 1978
- working in a battery factory, re-finishing old furniture, or other jobs and hobbies working with lead
- eating certain materials such as clay or dirt
- some spices, foods and medicines from other countries
- using chipped or broken dishes to store food
- Always wash your hands before making meals or eating
Pregnancy is a time of life when a women needs to rely on help from others. Your husband or partner, other family members or neighbors can:
- help around the house
- help you prepare healthy foods
- help you get to doctor appointments
Teens may need extra help sticking to good health habits.
For more information, please contact:
New York State Department of Health Growing Up Healthy Hotline – Provides info and referral for pregnancy planning, prenatal care, WIC, and related topics.