A pregnant woman faces many decisions about herself, her surroundings and her future baby. We’ll discuss some of the most important — although not all — steps you should take for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

First, we encourage pregnant woman to stop smoking. Even heavy smokers can help lower their risk of pre-term birth if they quit before or early on during pregnancy.

Healthy heart

Not only will your baby benefit from not smoking, your heart will as well. Controlling obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure also take stress off your heart. If these health issues are not controlled, they set the stage for a serious, potentially fatal problem called pre-eclampsia, which can harm the placenta and the mother’s kidney, liver and brain. More than one out of four pregnancy-related deaths are due to cardiovascular disease.

Healthy diet

Healthy eating is one of the most important recommendations we make. Breastfeeding mothers who maintain a higher-quality diet tend to have babies with lower body fat in the first six months and have a lower tendency toward obesity as they grow.

A pregnant woman’s diet should include a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, proteins and low-fat dairy. Avoid beverages and foods high in salt, saturated fats and sugar, such as cookies, white bread and snack foods.

Important vitamins

Folic acid helps prevent birth defects, particularly in a baby’s spine and brain. Some sources actually recommend every woman who is of reproductive age take a daily dose of folic acid, because approximately half of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned and some birth defects can develop in the first few weeks of pregnancy.

Talk to your OB-GYN about whether you need additional iron, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D and other vitamins and minerals.

Exercise

Moderate, low-impact exercises are good for a pregnant woman. Cycling, swimming and walking can be done regularly if you start slowly, take frequent breaks and drink plenty of liquids. Avoid exercising on your back in the first three months. This could limit blood flow to your baby. Stay away from activities where you could fall on your stomach, such as horse riding or water skiing.

COVID-19

COVID-19 is a new disease, and numerous teams are still learning how it spreads and the severity of illness it causes. There are many questions about how this virus impacts pregnant women, and much is still unknown. Do pregnant women have a greater chance of getting sick from COVID-19? Does it affect the health of the baby? Can women who test positive for COVID-19 breastfeed?

While answers to these questions continue to unfold, studies have shown that pregnant women are no more at risk than others. Underlying conditions, such as diabetes, COPD, etc., place an expectant mother at a higher risk as they do the general public. Studies have shown that COVID-19 does not appear to cross the placenta, meaning there is no harm to the baby.

COVID-19 and breastfeeding

Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most infants; however, much is unknown about COVID-19. Whether and how to start or continue breastfeeding should be determined by the mother in coordination with her family and health-care providers. A mother with confirmed COVID-19 or who is a symptomatic person under investigation should take all possible precautions to avoid spreading the virus to her infant, including washing her hands before touching the infant and wearing a face mask, if possible, while feeding at the breast. If expressing breast milk with a manual or electric breast pump, the mother should wash her hands before touching any pump or bottle parts and follow recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use. If possible, consider having someone who is well feed the expressed breast milk to the infant.

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. There are steps pregnant women can take to protect themselves from getting COVID-19:

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze (using your elbow is also a good technique). Throw used tissues in the trash, and immediately wash your hands with soap and water.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick and put distance between yourself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community.

Clean your hands often using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a dedicated website where you can find the most accurate, updated information related to COVID-19 and pregnancy/breastfeeding. Visit coronavirus.gov.

Dr. Gary Emerson cares for patients at McLeod OB/GYN Associates, located at 101 William H. Johnson St. Suite 500, Florence.

To schedule an appointment,

call 843-777-7400.

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