Congratulations, you're pregnant. So what's next?

Congratulations, you're pregnant. So what's next?
PHOTO: The Star/ANN

Pregnancy is one of the most significant events in a woman's life. It is filled with expectations, patience and hope.

It's a long nine months before a new life is brought into the world. Throughout this time, the mother-to-be will be bombarded with tips, old wives' tales, and other assorted advice - both true and untrue - about what to do during pregnancy. These can come from strangers, the mother and mother-in-law, as well as other well-meaning friends.

So, who's right, who's wrong? Great Eastern Life offers these tips.

Do's

- See your doctor regularly. Pre-natal care can keep you and your baby healthy.

- Take 0.4-0.8mg of folic acid daily. Folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects, and works best when taken with appropriate vitamins.

- Eat a variety of healthy food. Include fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, calcium-rich foods, lean meats and a variety of cooked seafood.

- Get essential nutrients, especially iron, daily. Getting enough iron prevents anaemia. Ask your doctor about taking a daily prenatal vitamin or iron supplement.

- Drink extra fluids, especially water.

- Do physical activities. Non-strenuous movement is good for you and your baby, unless the doctor advises otherwise.

- Gain a healthy amount of weight. Too much weight gain, or too little, may complicate childbirth. The average additional intake is only about 300 calories a day, depending on whether you are underweight, normal or overweight. "Eating for two" is unnecessary and potentially harmful. You should consult your doctor for the recommended calorie intake.

- Wash your hands, especially after handling meat or using the bathroom.

- Get sufficient sleep. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep at night. Sleeping on your left side improves blood circulation to the baby and prevents swelling. Use pillows between the legs and under stomach to get comfortable.

- Where possible, manage the stress in your life and say "No" to requests for time and energy you do not have. Seek help from others.

- Keep health problems under control. Additional discipline is required if you have other health issues, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Try to keep them under control.

- Consult a doctor on starting or stopping medication. Try to keep to the same doctor, and avoid over-the-counter prescriptions as it can harm your baby.

- Get a flu shot. Pregnant women are more susceptible to the flu, and should get vaccinated.

- Join a childbirth or parenting class.

Don'ts

- Don't smoke tobacco. Quitting may be hard, but the complications smoking will bring to the baby may be harder. Harmful chemicals such as nicotine and cancer-causing substances are passed directly to your baby through the bloodstream, increasing the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth and infant death. Seek help if necessary.

- Don't be exposed to toxic chemicals. Toxic substances such as cleaning solvents, mercury, insecticides and paint fumes should be avoided.

- Don't eat improperly cooked food. Protect you and your baby from food-borne disease with proper hygiene.

- Don't drink alcohol. There is no known safe amount of alcohol a woman can drink during pregnancy, but there are many records of negative effects when they do.

- Don't clean or change a cat's litter box. This might be unusual advice, but doing so exposes you to toxoplasmosis, an infection that is very harmful to the baby.

- Don't come in contact with rodents. Guinea pigs, hamsters and pet mice carry a virus that can be fatal to your baby.

- Don't take hot baths or saunas. High temperatures can be harmful to the foetus, or cause you to faint.

- Don't use scented female hygiene products. Scented products may irritate the vaginal area, and increase risk of urinary tract infection.

- Don't douche. Using a douche bag can irritate the vagina and increase the risk of infection.

- Fish is good. Researchers have found, observing over 12,000 children, that mothers who ate the most fish during pregnancy tend to have children with a higher intelligence quotient than those who abstained from fish, and the children of fish-eating mothers also appear to have better motor, communication and social skills.

- There are actually very few foods you should avoid. Of these, any foods that may contain listeria top the list. These include unpasteurised milk and soft cheeses, refrigerated meat spreads or pates, refrigerated smoked seafood (unless it is cooked in a casserole or other dish), and hot dogs and deli meats, unless they are heated until steaming.

Addressing pregnancy myths

- Microwave ovens are safe; no good science has conclusively proven that usage is adverse to a pregnant woman's health.

- Computers emit only a minuscule amount of radiation, especially with the advent of LCD/LED screens that made obsolete the cathode-ray tube monitors of the past.

- Air travel and security scanners. There are two main concerns here. The security scanner does emit a tiny amount of radiation, but has not been shown to be harmful. Change in air pressure within the plane cabin is also thought to cause premature labour, but that is untrue.

- Hair dye is a particularly stubborn myth to debunk, since many doctors themselves err on the safe side by recommending that women don't dye or colour their hair during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester.

- Nail polish falls under the heading of "phthalates", which can also be found in other personal care items, as well as many room deodorisers. Though there is no conclusive evidence, many studies have shown evidence that phthalates are endocrine disrupters - chemicals that may have an impact on gender hormones.

Every pregnant woman wants a safe delivery, with the baby growing up strong and healthy. It is the first time in a mother-to-be's life where every single action and habit impacts the life of another.

Having a healthy pregnancy involves lots of planning and effort. But at the end of the day, the rewards will definitely be worthwhile!

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