As the saying goes: Age ain’t nothing but a number. But when it comes to getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy, it can matter. Rest assured, most healthy women who get pregnant after age 35 and even into their 40s have healthy babies. That doesn't mean, though, that you shouldn't think about smart steps you can take to maximize your health and your baby's health during pregnancy.
How Can I Increase My Chances of Having a Healthy Baby?
Preconception checkups and counseling. When you decide that you are ready to have a baby, it is important to take some steps prior to conception. See your doctor for a checkup to make sure you are healthy prior to conception. Talk to him to make sure you are emotionally prepared for pregnancy.
Get early and regular prenatal care. The first 8 weeks of your pregnancy are very important to your baby's development. Early and regular prenatal care can increase your chances of having a safe pregnancy and a healthy baby. Prenatal care includes screenings, regular exams, pregnancy and childbirth education, and counseling and support.
Getting prenatal care also helps provide extra protection for women over 35. It allows your doctor to stay ahead of health conditions that are more common in women who are older when they get pregnant. For instance, your age may increase your risk for gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, a condition that causes high blood pressure along with protein in the urine. During prenatal visits, your doctor will check your blood pressure, test your urine for protein and sugar, and test your blood glucose levels. That way, any potential problems can be caught and treated early.
Consider optional prenatal tests for women over 35. Your doctor may offer you special prenatal tests that are particularly applicable for older moms. These tests help determine the risk of having a baby with a birth defect. Ask your doctor about these tests so you can learn the risks and benefits and decide what's right for you.
Take prenatal vitamins. All women of childbearing age should take a daily prenatal vitamin containing at least 400 micrograms of folic acid. Getting enough folic acid every day before and during the first 3 months of pregnancy can help prevent defects involving a baby's brain and spinal cord. Taking folic acid adds an important level of protection for older women, who have a higher risk of having a baby with birth defects. Some prenatal vitamins have 800-1,000 mcg of folic acid. This is still safe in pregnancy. As a matter of fact, some women need more than 400 mcg for protection against birth defects. Do not take more than 1,000 mcg (1 milligram) of folic acid without asking your doctor. Women with a history of a child with neural tube defects need 4000 mcg.
How Can I Lower My Risk for Pregnancy Problems?
You deserve the same TLC as your baby. Taking care of yourself will help you manage any existing health problems and protect you from pregnancy-related diabetes and high blood pressure. And the healthier you are, the better it will be for your little one.
Keep up with other doctor appointments. If you have a chronic health problem such as diabetes or high blood pressure, be sure you keep up with your regular doctor appointments. Managing your condition before you get pregnant will keep both you and your baby healthy. Be sure to see your dentist for regular exams and cleanings, too. Having healthy teeth and gums lessens the chance of preterm birth and of having a baby with a low birth weight.
Maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet. Eating a variety of foods will help you get all the nutrients you need. Choose plenty of fruits and veggies, whole grains, beans, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products. You should eat and drink at least four servings of dairy and other calcium-rich foods every day. That way you'll keep your teeth and bones healthy while your baby develops. Also be sure to include good food sources of folic acid, such as leafy green vegetables, dried beans, liver, and some citrus fruits.
Gain the recommended amount of weight. Talk with your doctor about how much weight you should gain. Women with a normal BMI should gain between 25 and 35 pounds during pregnancy. If you were overweight before getting pregnant, your doctor may recommend that you gain only 15 to 25 pounds. Obese women should gain about 11 to 20 pounds. Gaining the appropriate amount of weight lessens the chance of your baby growing slowly and reduces the risk of preterm birth. You also lower your risk for developing pregnancy problems such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.
Exercise regularly. Regular exercise will help you stay at a healthy pregnancy weight, keep your strength up, and ease stress. Just be sure you review your exercise program with your doctor. You'll most likely be able to continue your normal exercise routine throughout your pregnancy. But your doctor can help you figure out if you'll need to scale back or modify your routine.
Stop smoking and drinking alcohol. Like all pregnant women, you should not drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes during your pregnancy. Drinking alcohol increases your baby's risk for a wide range of mental and physical defects. Smoking increases the chance for delivering a low birth-weight baby, which is more common in older women. Not smoking can also help prevent preeclampsia.
Ask your doctor about medications. Talk with your doctor about what meds are safe to take during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, supplements, and natural remedies.