Planning a pregnancy

Family Health Diary

It’s been a good long while before I had planning a pregnancy on my mind (my babies are now 21,18 and 13) but planning is in fact what you should do in an ideal world, rather than have a wee surprise. While this might possibly sound unromantic, perhaps think of this instead as a long-term health decision for the small person to be.

Studies will tell you that the mother’s health from pre – conception, to conception and through pregnancy has an influence on the baby. There are medical tomes written this, but I’m just going to focus on four big ones:

You are what you eat, and if you’re growing another life- they are what you eat too. It goes without saying that paying attention to eating good food is pregnancy 101. There’s one thing here that needs to be in headlights though that needs more than just ‘a good diet’. It’s your folate status. Possibly not a status you have posted on Facebook, but a very important status all the same. It refers to the levels of folate (a B vitamin) you have in your body, and when you’re looking to support another growing life, your body needs more than usual. Low folate levels before and during pregnancy have been linked to an increased risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) – which are brain and spinal cord defects, including spina bifida and anencephaly. These vital parts of a small human are being formed in early pregnancy, even before many women are even aware they are pregnant, particularly if you are not planning to be. As such, the New Zealand Ministry of Health recommends that:

‘women planning a pregnancy need to take a daily dose of folic acid. This dose will either be a low dose of 800 µg day, or a high dose of 5 mg day of folic acid, depending on the perceived risk of having a NTD affected pregnancy, for at least four weeks before conception and 12 weeks after conception’.

The NZ Ministry of Health advises that there is no known safe level of alcohol use at any stage of pregnancy. This includes the time around conception. Although there are many discussions on amount of alcohol and stage of pregnancy, it seems the very best advice is for a woman to stop drinking alcohol while pregnant or when planning a pregnancy, and the reason is simple: Alcohol crosses the placenta, meaning anything you drink, your baby will consume too, but an unborn baby has only a limited ability to metabolise alcohol. The consequences on a baby’s development if at a sensitive time can in fact be very serious with a condition called fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). So give your bubby the best chance and go for the non- alcoholic drinkies.

Yep, it’s also a no from the New Zealand Ministry of Health. It can cause a number of issues with an unborn baby, and a newborn – and being exposed to smoke post birth too is not good.

Your mental health
It’s a changing time, so you’ll feel different – perhaps a bit anxious about what lies ahead. All normal stuff. But if you’re pregnant and feeling significantly stressed for a prolonged period, this can not only adversely affect you, but your developing baby too.

Exposure to high levels of stress hormones in the womb can increase the risk of low birth weight and preterm delivery. Antenatal depression is another one that oft goes unheralded.  While most people have heard of post-natal depression, being depressed while you’re pregnant isn’t so well known. However, it does happen, and if you find yourself in that place (or rather someone who knows you picks it up – often the way) then get it sorted ASAP. You need to be in a good place for you, and your new baby will need you to be too.

The status of your health as a mum to be is vital to the new life you will be growing inside you. If you’re planning a baby, it’s exciting stuff… and the start of the responsibility of motherhood!


Written by Jude Dobson

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