You’re on top of things. Responsibly, you take folic acid every day and have been since you started trying to have a baby. You happily avoid alcohol and other drugs. Likely, you read one or two pregnancy books and see your doctor regularly. But you may be making avoidable mistakes that can put you and your baby at risk. Here are some that experts say happen quite a lot by expecting women.
1. Not buckling up
According to a recent study, many women will stop buckling up in cars fearing that the strap could harm their fetus. This is often done later in pregnancy as the bump gets bigger. Don’t fall for this mistake! Car accidents kill more fetuses than babies each year in America—most experts say could have been avoided had seat belts been worn. If the seat belt is uncomfortable, be sure that you have the waist strap below the bump and across your pelvis. If you are expecting multiples, you may opt to get a seat belt extender.
2. Not continuing medications for pre-existing diseases
A lot of women think that all prescription drugs can cause birth deformities and stop taking them when pregnant. This is a bad decision for women with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, seizure disorders, or psychiatric illnesses, which have to be kept in check. My asthma doctor told me recently that one of his patients had a severe asthma attack that landed her in the hospital where she lost her baby. Had she continued with her asthma inhaler during pregnancy, the attack that risked her baby never would have happened. The best thing to do if you have a preexisting condition is to ask the doctor for advice on continuing versus stopping the medication.
3. Eating for two
Average weight gain during pregnancy should only be about twenty-five pounds. A woman only needs 300 more calories a day when pregnant—and the calories need to be rich with vitamins and protein. (See: Top Nutrients for Healthy Mom and Baby.) Putting on a lot more weight will increase your chances of hypertension, gestational diabetes, and having a big baby, which ups your likelihood for having a C-section—or a more difficult delivery.
4. Decreasing activity
Engaging in mild to moderate exercise is still best. It keeps you fit and prepares you for the rigors of delivery. Ask your doctor to prescribe an exercise regimen for you. If you are at high risk for miscarriage, your doctor may advise waiting until after twelve weeks, but be sure you walk or swim—do something gentle.
5. Electing for a C-section
A C-section will involve more difficult, more painful recuperation than vaginal delivery, believe it or not. So if you’ve read stories about how C-sections reduce the chances of incontinence, or think they will give you more control over your due date—reconsider your choices. A cesarean can save lives when needed—but it is major surgery that can lead to six weeks of down time post-partum, difficulties in breastfeeding later, infections, and a longer recovery period.
6. Skipping breakfast
Experts advise that pregnant women eat three small meals and two snacks at regular intervals to help maintain steady blood glucose (sugar) levels. But many women habitually skip breakfast. Experts say skipping breakfast, after sometimes nine to twelve hours of not eating, increases the risk of premature labor. While you may be experiencing morning sickness, ease into a little food. Crackers by the bed can help you before you get up. And a little food in the belly often diminishes nausea. Once you’re up, fix yourself a light breakfast.
7. Not addressing your emotional well-being
When you are stressed and over-stretched, your body often doesn’t absorb all the nutrients in food. Studies also show that stress has a negative impact on your diet choices. Remember binging on chocolate or junk food when cramming for exams? We reach for comfort food when stressed, and sweets and chips have empty calories—not helping the baby and adding additional weight for mom. Try to get enough sleep and talk with your doctor about solutions such as yoga or a counseling group for expectant moms.
8. You let Dad install the infant car seat at zero hour
Big mistake. When you are being wheeled out of the hospital, you don’t want to find Dad wrestling with the car seat, realizing he’s not sure how to install it, or if he’s doing it correctly. Buy and install it at least a month before your due date and find a community car seat “checkpoint,” like a fire station or police station to inspect it.