• The First Things to Do for Your First Pregnancy or When You're Preparing for One

    You really need to be in the best shape of your life, so to speak, when you raise another human being.
    by Ana Leah dela Cruz .
The First Things to Do for Your First Pregnancy or When You're Preparing for One
PHOTO BY iStock
  • The moment you decide to have a child is also the moment you need to stop taking your health for granted. Your body needs to be healthy to support your pregnancy. That means no more late-night drives to your favorite fast food, no more drinking, smoking, and other unhealthy habits. You probably hear this often, but you really need to be in the best shape of your life, so to speak, when you're ready to raise a human being.

    The ideal situation is you don't go to the doctor when you're pregnant already. Doctors recommend you undergo a pre-conception or prenatal checkup with your obstetrician-gynecologist three months before you try to have a baby.

    This allows your doctor to check if you have pre-existing conditions or possible risks that may affect your pregnancy. Your doctor will run some tests and prescribe prenatal vitamins like folic acid, which can help your body prepare for pregnancy.

    Make sure you maintain a healthy weight, too. Controlling how much you can help prevent pregnancy complications like stillbirth and gestational diabetes.

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    Don't be surprised when you start craving certain dishes.
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    Missing your period doesn’t always mean you’re pregnant

    One of the most common questions we receive is when to test for pregnancy. There are a few early signs of pregnancy, but we always recommend that you pay your doctor a visit to be sure. She’ll ask you to do a blood test and an ultrasound.

    One of the earliest signs of pregnancy is a missed period, especially if you have a regular 28-to-30-day cycle. However, stress, diet, exercise, and certain medical conditions can also cause a delayed period.

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    Another sign of pregnancy is light spotting. The blood spots can be due to implantation bleeding when an embryo plants itself in the uterus lining. This can happen six to 12 days after fertilization, and it may also be accompanied by cramps. 

    You may also experience more vaginal discharge. Since pregnancy causes the thickening of your vaginal wall, the increased cell growth can cause milkier white discharge. Make sure it has no untoward smell — it could be a sign of yeast or bacterial infection if it does.

    You may also notice that your breasts feel sore and they seem a little bigger and heavier than usual. Your areolas may get a bit darker, and you see more pronounced veins on your chest.

    Constipation and frequent urination are other also common signs of pregnancy. Your body temperature may also higher than usual so you may feel hot all the time. You may also feel more tired and a bit more moody.

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    Perhaps the most well-known sign of pregnancy is morning sickness or the feeling of nausea that makes you want to throw up. This is most common during the first trimester of your pregnancy, but some women experience it through the whole nine months. Although it’s awful and many mommies dread this symptom, research says it can be a sign of a healthy pregnancy, and the placenta is doing its job correctly. However, not all pregnancies are the same, and every mom is different, which means if you do not experience morning sickness, it doesn’t say that your pregnancy is not healthy and vice versa. It’s still best to ask your doctor. 

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    There’s no magic cure and no one-size-fits-all solution for morning sickness, but there are a couple of things you can do to manage it every day.

    • Add a lot of protein and carbohydrates in your diet. Peanut butter, apple slices, celery, nuts, cheese, and crackers are great options. Low-fat dairy products like milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt can also help.
    • Drink plenty of fluids. Water, seltzer, ginger ale, and other sparkling water may help control the symptoms.
    • Experts also suggest that you keep away from poorly ventilated spaces that trap strong odors, especially if you’re the type of pregnant woman with a heightened sense of smell — it might trigger your morning sickness.
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    How a pregnancy test kit works

    To know for sure if you’re pregnant, you can use a pregnancy test kit. You should wait for a week to 10 days after you missed your period so you can get the most accurate result. Experts also recommend that you take the pregnancy test using your first pee in the morning. But if you’re really pregnant, no matter what time of day you test for pregnancy, the kit should easily detect it.

    A pregnancy test kit detects human chorionic gonadotropin or hCG, which is a hormone produced by a developing placenta. Your typical test kit is available at any leading drug store, and it usually comes with a cup, a dropper, and a pregnancy testing stick or strip. The more expensive kind wouldn’t require you to pee in a cup; you can pee directly on the stick and wait five to 10 seconds for the result — one line means you’re not pregnant and two lines indicate you’re pregnant.

    pregnancy test line
    There are also pregnancy test strips that come with a cup and a litmus paper-like material that you can dip in the container.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Ivy Sanchez

    No matter the pregnancy test kit you choose, make sure your hands are clean when you take the test, and you don’t do it on a dirty surface. Instructions on how to use a pregnancy test will be at the back of the kit’s packaging; follow it to the letter. You should see results in five to 10 seconds.

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    Does a faint second line mean I'm not pregnant?
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Mina Balada

    According to Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel, authors of What To Expect When You’re Expecting, if your test is showing the second line, no matter how faint it is, you’re pregnant. 

    A pregnancy test kit will show a false negative if you use it too early and if you’re very early in your pregnancy. A false positive can also happen if you had a pregnancy loss soon after the fertilized egg attached to your uterine lining or what is called a biochemical pregnancy. If you take a pregnancy test shortly after you take a fertility drug with hCG, you might get a false positive result, too. An ectopic pregnancy, menopause, or problems with your ovaries can lead to misleading results.

    Your next steps based on the results are crucial. If you got a series of positive or mixed results, you need to make an appointment with your doctor immediately. She is likely to ask you to do a blood test and an ultrasound to confirm your pregnancy. She will prescribe prenatal vitamins as soon as your pregnancy is verified because it's crucial to begin your prenatal care immediately.

    If you get a negative pregnancy test result but still haven’t gotten your period, you can repeat the test a few days or weeks later. However, if you continue to get negative results and your period still hasn’t come, schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately. Other conditions that may lead to a missed period include thyroid disorders, low body weight, problems with your ovaries, excessive exercise, and stress.

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    You have to really watch what you eat once you become pregnant.
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    What a pregnant woman can and cannot eat

    Once you’ve been prescribed your prenatal vitamins, make sure you take them regularly. It’s time for some lifestyle changes, too — if you haven’t started already. You can eat oily food but in small amounts because too much bad fats in your body can lead to gestational diabetes and increase your risk of getting heartburn. A high fat and sugar diet can also weaken your baby’s immune system. 

    Dr. Aurora Lopez-Valdez, an obstetrician-gynecologist, advised against eating canned food because it is high in preservatives, sodium, and sugar. Raw meat, eggs, or shellfish should also be avoided, according to the American Pregnancy Association. You may want to steer clear of unpasteurized dairy, too.

    Your doctor will also advise you to avoid caffeine in the first trimester to further reduce the chances of having a miscarriage. You can switch to decaffeinated coffee or tea with a 300ml-limit a day. Avoid soda and energy drinks, too. Not only do they have caffeine, but they also have high sugar content. Your doctor may discourage you from drinking wine and alcohol. 

    Dr. Lopez-Valdez says there is no reason to avoid poultry, beef, pork, fish, or any other seafood except when you have allergies. She says poultry is a good source of protein for pregnant women, so it’s not advisable to remove it from your diet.

    When it comes to fish, consult your doctor. Pregnant women abstain from it because of fears of mercury content. However, the fats found in fish are essential to aid in the development of the brain and vision of your baby. If you’re worried about mercury, stay away from king mackerel, swordfish, and shark. Dr. Lopez-Valdez further notes that most of these foods are okay to eat — it depends on the condition of the patient. Your doctor is the only one who can give you a proper diagnosis.

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    How to exercise when you’re pregnant

    It’s a common misconception that when you’re pregnant, you’re not allowed to carry anything heavy, jump up and down, and exercise. However, experts have found that unless your doctor advises you against any of the activities we’ve mentioned, there’s no reason for you to stay seated all day and all night. In fact, pregnancy exercises are right for you when done within reason and adequate precautions.

    Obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Bruce K. Young, M.D., co-author of Miscarriage, Medicine & Miracles said there is no real evidence that exercise is linked to miscarriage. As long as you’re healthy and your doctor allows it, pregnancy exercises can help your body release happy hormones that can help prevent depression and weight gain — two things that can complicate a pregnancy and put you and your baby at risk.

    If you have a healthy, low-risk pregnancy, you can exercise for 20-30 minutes, provided you do light and moderate intensity exercises. You can do it every day or at least three times a week.

    The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has released updated guidelines along with a list of recommendations that you can follow if you want to exercise while you’re pregnant. According to the guide, regular physical activity during pregnancy reduces the risks of gestational diabetes and enhances psychological well-being. Exercising can also help lower the risk of your baby developing heart and respiratory problems. It can also prevent the baby from becoming too big inside the womb, which could cause complications.

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    One of the most highly recommended exercises is walking. You can start with a brisk walk for five minutes and continue onto longer intervals in between.

    Low-impact aerobics, indoor stationary cycling, and elliptical machines are also great exercises for you. If you’re going to attend classes for these exercises, make sure the instructor knows you’re pregnant. If you want something more fun and relaxing, you can go swimming. Guided hydro aerobics is one of the safest and easiest exercises you can try.

    Yoga and pilates are also excellent choices — just make sure you’re attending a prenatal yoga class as some yoga positions are not safe for pregnant women. 

    Exercises and sports like jogging, long-distance running, tennis, badminton, and strength training are something you can do as long as you’ve been doing them before you got pregnant and you have clearance from your doctor.

    However, if you have an existing heart condition and persistent bleeding in the last two trimesters, it’s best not to do any physical activities.

    If you’re at risk for pre-term labor and severe anemia or if you have an incompetent cervix, a low-lying placenta or placenta previa after 26 weeks of gestation, you need to skip the exercise, too. 

    If you experience vaginal bleeding, regular painful contractions, leaking amniotic fluid, breathlessness, dizziness, a headache, chest pain, muscle weakness, and calf pain or swelling, you need to stop exercising immediately.

    Two things are key here: if you’ve been exercising before you got pregnant, you should be able to continue through your pregnancy. Another is if your doctor says there shouldn’t be any problem. A pregnant woman shouldn’t be overexerting herself, and a good gauge that you're all right is you can still carry a conversation while moving without the need to catch your breath. Make sure that when you do exercise, you stay hydrated. Dehydration can divert the blood flow from the placenta to the muscles.

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    pregnancy sex positions
    Your pregnancy shouldn’t stop you from having sex. And no, it won’t hurt your baby.
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    Having sex when you’re pregnant

    As long as you have a healthy pregnancy, you can have sex with your husband as many times as you want. Your cervix has its own way of protecting your unborn child. It has a mucus plug that seals it and protects your uterus against bacteria and infections. The amniotic sac serves the same purpose as it helps keep your little one safe from bumps and jolts and even sudden changes of temperature. 

    If you’re worried about miscarrying because of having sex, experts found that there is no known link between sex and pregnancy loss. Dr. Lopez-Valdez said there is no such thing as the best or the safest time to have sex when you’re pregnant either.

    March of Dimes, however, notes that if you have a history of miscarriage, premature birth, premature labor, unexplained bleeding, low-lying placenta, and incompetent cervix, you might want to abstain from having sex with your husband. If you’re carrying multiples or if your water broke, you may need to skip the sex, too.

    But if you do get a go from your doctor and if you’re in the mood for it, some of the best positions you can do include spooning (you and your partner lie sideways as he enters you from behind). There is also cowgirl (reverse cowgirl, too!)  where you have your way with your partner on the bed, on a chair, or on the couch. Just make sure you can put your feet on the ground so you can anchor your movement. 

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    If you’ve gotten too heavy to be on top, you can also do a traditional doggy style with you on all fours and your partner entering you from behind — this gets your baby bump out of the way really easy. If you’re feeling a little lazy, the classic missionary position can still work if your belly is still small. Sex positions during pregnancy vary from couple to couple, depending on your pregnancy. Always consult your doctor if you and your partner are unsure.

    When it comes to being “extra” in bed while you’re pregnant, try to stay away from sex toys for now. They all work differently, and it may harm you and your baby without you knowing. Don’t worry about using lubricant — thanks to the mucus plug preggos can be well-lubricated. As you near your due date, refrain from receiving oral sex since your cervix gets thinner as you near birth.

    Almost 40% of pregnant women want more sex than they usually did before they got pregnant. However, some women experience a diminished sexual desire during pregnancy because of hormones, discomfort, and low self-esteem.

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    teen pregnancy
    The National Demographic and Health Survey from the Department of Health reveals teen pregnancy in the Philippines has increased over the last two decades, making us the only country in the Asia-Pacific region where the rate of teen pregnancy continues to rise.
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    Teen pregnancy poses higher health risks

    Not very many teens are aware that if they get pregnant early, they run the risk of experiencing various health risks and mental health turmoil unique to their age.

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    For one, teens are at high risk of preeclampsia or pregnancy-related high blood pressure and its complications. It can begin after 20 weeks of pregnancy with common signs like swelling, especially in your legs and arms, as well as an increased protein in your urine. A severe headache, vision problems, and abdominal pain are also common signs. It’s important to prevent high blood pressure during your pregnancy because it can cause your blood volume to stop increasing. If there is no increase in your blood volume, it can prevent your baby from getting enough blood and oxygen. 

    If you leave preeclampsia untreated, it can also harm the kidneys, liver, brain, cardiovascular system, and other organs. Preeclampsia can also result in stillbirths due to placental abruption, where the placenta separates from the uterus and causes the mother to bleed profusely.

    Teens and young mothers are also more likely to give birth to premature babies, partly because of preeclampsia and the lack of proper health care. Premature and low birth babies may have health issues like difficulty breathing, bleeding, and lack of oxygen in the brain. They also have an underdeveloped immune system, which makes them prone to infections, blood complications, vision problems, and gastrointestinal issues. 

    Anemia is also common in teen pregnancy because of the insufficient amount of healthy caloric intake needed during pregnancy. Teens are also going through rapid growth spurts, which means their bodies have a greater need for all types of nutrients. That’s why it’s important for pregnant teens to regularly get prenatal care to make sure they are receiving adequate amounts of nutrients and prenatal vitamins to prevent iron and other nutritional deficiencies.

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    The World Health Organization notes that childbirth is one of the leading causes of death for girl ages 15 to 19. And every year, an estimated 21 million girls around this age become pregnant. Child mortality is also high when the mom is this young. Girls under 18 are also at risk of having complications during labor as their bodies are not physically ready for childbirth. Since they have a smaller pelvis, they are more prone to suffer obstructed labor.

    Pregnant teens are also more likely to develop postpartum depression, especially if the mother has a weak or entirely no support system.

    If you’re a teen mom or know someone who is one of the best ways to take care of yourself, or her, is to get regular prenatal care. Teen pregnancy may need specialized care and plenty of prenatal vitamins with folic acid, calcium, and iron. Make sure you also get enough sleep and try to avoid stress as much as possible.

    Getting pregnant at a young age, especially if it’s unplanned, can subject the mom to constant shaming and stigma. This can take a toll on your well-being, so it’s vital that you have a strong and encouraging support system. Your new role and the responsibilities that come with it can also be overwhelming. Ask for help if you need it, any new mom can and may feel overwhelmed especially when you realize how significant your new role is.

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    Whether you’re a first-time mom or a teen mom, the two most important things you need to remember when you’re pregnant is to get all the prenatal care you can get and to keep yourself as healthy as you can. The latter can be so challenging, especially in a country where so many pregnancy myths and superstitions exist despite the emergence of new studies and technology. Remember that you always need to consult your doctor. Doing research on your own is fine, as long as you talk to your doctor first before you do anything.

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    Someone tells you that you shouldn’t drink soda when you’re pregnant because your baby will be stubborn when he grows up. This is not true because your diet doesn’t have any effect on your child’s personality and attitude. However, it does have an impact on your physical well-being. Soda is high on caffeine and sugar, which deprives you of sleep and much-needed calcium.

    Another pregnancy myth and one that can be harmful, too, is that you need to eat raw eggs when you’re pregnant so you would have an easier time during delivery. Experts say you should never eat raw food while you’re pregnant, especially raw eggs since these will expose you to salmonella. You can have cooked egg while you’re pregnant, but it won’t have any effect on your delivery — positive or negative.

    It’s also a common misconception that when you’re pregnant, you have to eat a lot because you’re eating for two. You often feel hungry when you’re pregnant because your body is supporting two systems. However, it doesn’t mean that you should eat a lot. If you gain weight, it puts you at risk for gestational diabetes, backaches, and high blood pressure.

    Other pregnancy myths include not drinking cold water as your baby might catch a cold (nope) and that you need to avoid crying when you’re pregnant because your child will be a crybaby.

    Instead of worrying about expert-debunked pregnancy myths, focus on getting plenty of sleep and rest, eating healthy, and exercising. Get yourself a doctor you can trust and work with, and regularly take your prenatal vitamins.

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