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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Early Medical Care in Pregnancy is Important

Early Medical Care in Pregnancy is Important

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wed, Aug. 31, 2005

By Itika Greene, RN, NP, MPH

A PATIENT, let's call her Sylvia, recently came in for early prenatal (pregnancy) care. She'd always been healthy, so was surprised when I told her she had diabetes of pregnancy, known as gestational diabetes.

"How could I?" she asked, "I feel fine."

I explained that many women who have never had diabetes, a disease in which sugar accumulates in the blood, can become diabetic while pregnant.

The condition requires treatment, with changes in diet and possibly medication, to ensure that both the mother and baby will be healthy. In most cases, the woman stops being a diabetic after pregnancy, but she is at increased risk of developing it later in life.

As the county perinatal services coordinator, I see the consequences of inadequate or late prenatal care: small, poorly developed or sick babies. Making healthy choices is particularly important when you are pregnant, and also before you become pregnant.

Diabetes is just one problem that early prenatal care can detect and help. In addition, your prenatal care provider will also check to be sure you don't have high blood pressure, sexually transmitted disease, anemia, tuberculosis, cervical cancer and inherited diseases that may be passed on to your baby.

Your provider can give you specific advice, based on your personal health history.

Women of childbearing age should follow a healthy lifestyle, especially if they're planning to have a baby. Some tips on what to do before you even get pregnant -- and especially if you are pregnant -- include:

  • Get regular checkups and gynecological exams to check for sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer.
  • See your doctor regularly if you have chronic health problems, such a diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • Take daily folic acid and a multivitamin at the recommended dose.
  • If pregnant, always check with a medical provider before taking any medicines, even nonprescription drugs for colds or headaches.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Get regular dental checkups and cleanings -- tooth and gum disease are associated with babies being born too early.
  • Avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs.

Seek professional help if you're in an emotionally, verbally or physically abusive relationship. Research shows that emotional well-being is an important part of good health. Stress can cause high blood pressure and affect the fetus.

Once pregnant, women should see a medical provider as soon as possible. Statistics show that mothers who received no prenatal care are three times more likely to have babies with low birth weight when born, and are five times more likely to die than babies whose mothers received prenatal care.

Pregnant women without health insurance can get health coverage for prenatal care and delivery. Check with Contra Costa Health Services, the county's public health system, for information about services available to expectant mothers and their children. Call 1-800-696-9644 for information in both English and Spanish.

And after you've delivered your baby, don't give up the good habits. Instead, keep up the healthy lifestyle. It'll mean you'll be healthier and as a result it will also keep you in good shape for any other children you might plan on having.

Greene is the perinatal services coordinator with the county's family, maternal and child health programs.

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