During my internship I have met and interacted with a lot of special children and their parents. These children, because of their condition, have then become my patients. As part of providing an affective management for them, it is important for me to know the congenital history of their condition. Thus, I am required to ask their parents, usually their moms, regarding the details of their pregnancy. Most of the children's conditions such as autism, cleft of the lip or palate, cerebral palsy, hearing impairment and mental retardation are congenital in origin and thus can be related to the events that had occurred during their conception. A number of previous researches have indicated that most women who get pregnant beyond the age of 35 may have a higher risk of having children who have mental retardation or have Down's Syndrome. Some studies also show that exposure of pregnant women to teratogens such as rubella virus and radiation, has caused their children to have hearing impairment or cerebral palsy. Unfortunately, most of the mothers I have talked to are not aware of the risks they encounter during pregnancy as well as the various effects of these risks on their babies.
Congenital problems of children may be caused by various factors or the interaction of those factors. Some problems such as mental retardation and congenital malformations may have compounding causes, while some conditions, like autism, may not even have a definite, proven cause. Most parents I have talked to, especially those that have not yet consulted with any doctor, are surprised to learn that their children's conditions are a consequence of something that they had done or had taken (in cases of medication in-take) during their pregnancy. Some of them even mentioned that they had hoped to have known earlier about the risks of being pregnant, back when they can still do something to prevent it from affecting their children. Other, on the other hand, have expressed their fear of having another child with the looming possibility of their next baby having the same condition.
I felt that as part of my profession it is my responsibility to help inform parents, especially mothers or soon to be mothers, about the risks they face during pregnancy and what they can do about it. I have identified three most common risks; namely, stress, in-take of medications, and smoking and alcoholic drink in-take, that may adversely affect the congenital development of infants. I have also included some options that pregnant women can choose to follow to avoid the said risks and their effects.
- 1 Pregnancy Care
Stress During Pregnancy
Researchers have been contending about stress among pregnant women and its effects to infants. A previous research has claimed that stress during pregnancy does not affect the condition of the baby in any way. However, recent studies show that this can actually cause pre-term labor among women and low birth weight of infants. The feeling of being stressed may be due to different reasons. Among pregnant women this may be attributed to hormonal and physical changes they experience as well as changes in their lifestyle.
There are a lot of things that pregnant women can choose to do to avoid feeling stressed. Among these stress management activities is learning to plan their activities and taking note that those are achievable relative to their current situation. Setting activities that cannot be attained may only frustrate them. Also, they need to remain in control of their lives, but be open to some changes as well. Never take for granted communicating with their husbands or families and learning more about pregnancy as a condition. Lastly, they should always take time to relax and reflect.
Taking Medications During Pregnancy
During my encounters with my patients' mothers, they have mentioned that they experienced having urinary tract infection during their pregnancy and their doctors have prescribed some medications for them to take. However, when asked what those medications are, they cannot recall the exact prescriptions anymore. The same story is reported by some moms who had experienced having a fever or flu instead during their pregnancy. Some medications are really dangerous to be taken during pregnancy and doctors will probably not prescribe medicines to pregnant women if those are known to be harmful. Illegal drugs are out of the questions because those are definitely dangerous even to women who are not pregnant.
What women should do during their pregnancy is to consult their doctors regarding any medications that they plan to take for any illness. Avoid taking unprescribed medications, if possible. Also, note down or record every medication that has been taken; the name of the medicine, when it was taken, how long it was taken, for what illness or condition and the name of the physician who prescribed it. Through this, they can have a source for future references. Also, a list of safe medications are indicated in various sites in the internet and they can easily search for it. However, doctors are still the best persons to consult regarding matters of medications.
Smoking and Taking Alcoholic Drinks During Pregnancy
Tobacco and alcoholic drinks are among the most common teratogens that often cause abnormalities in infants. Other famous teratogens include rubella virus, radiation and illegal drugs. Women who have a history of smoking and drinking during their pregnancy are most probably also the mothers of children who have congenital malformations and cognitive problems. These teratogens can also cause low birth weight or premature deliveries of babies. In some cases, infants even die before they are born because of those substances. Aside from direct smoking, constant or regular exposure to secondhand smoke can also affect pregnancy in the same way as firsthand smoking, thus, should be avoided.
The option to this risk is quiet simple. Avoid such activities that are definitely harmful to pregnancy. There is no other possible, good option. Also, be aware when in doubt of possible pregnancy. Some mothers I have talked to reported that they were not aware of their pregnancy when they were still smoking or drinking. When they finally learned about their condition, it was already too late. Therefore, women should carefully take note if they suspect of their possible pregnancy.
Throughout the nine months of a child's conception, it is therefore necessary to learn much about being pregnant. A lot of people, places and books may be consulted or used as resources or references for this. One common mistake I have noted among all the mothers I have talked to is their lack of knowledge regarding pregnancy. The risks may not so much affect the mother herself but they will definitely have a negative effect on their babies. Like all other problems or illnesses, it is important to bear in mind that prevention is better than cure. Rather than provide a solution to the conditions of their children as an outcome of being exposed to various risks, it is much better if they initially avoided letting their children be at risk of having those conditions.
General Precautions for Handling Food during Pregnancy
Always wash your hands before handling food. Thoroughly wash all fruit and vegetables before eating them. Make sure raw meat and pre-prepared raw ready meals are properly cooked. This reduces your risks of getting infections from food. Various germs (bacteria, viruses or similar) can cause food poisoning. Food poisoning causes tummy (abdominal) pain, runny stools (diarrhoea) and vomiting. Two germs that are of particular importance to avoid during pregnancy have already been mentioned - listeria and toxoplasma. It is possible that other food poisoning bacteria may also cause complications during pregnancy. For example, gut infection with bacteria called salmonella and campylobacter may be associated with an increased risk of pregnancy complications. So, it is wise to be extra vigilant about avoiding food poisoning.
Therefore, be strict about food hygiene:
- Always cook eggs and meat, including poultry, thoroughly.
- Wash fruit and vegetables.
- Wash your hands after going to the toilet, before handling food, before eating, after handling raw meat and after touching animals.
Medication for Pregnancy
The effects of some prescribed medicines have been well studied and it is known that certain medicines are safe in pregnancy. For example, paracetamol at normal dose is safe and useful for headaches, backache and other aches and pains that may occur during pregnancy. However, for many medicines, it is not known for sure if they are safe or unsafe. So if you are pregnant, you should minimise your use of medication. This includes medicines that you can buy. Also, just because a medicine says it is herbal or natural, it does not necessarily mean that it is harmless or safe.
Always tell a doctor or dentist who prescribes medication for you that you are pregnant. Also, don't take medicines that you can buy over the counter (including herbal remedies) unless they are known to be safe in pregnancy. The pharmacist will advise.
- Paracetamol at normal dose is safe and useful for headaches, backache and other aches and pains that may occur during pregnancy.
- Anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen. You should not normally take these during pregnancy. Regular use during pregnancy may affect the large blood vessels of the developing baby.
- Laxatives. Constipation is common in pregnancy and you may need a laxative. At first it is best to try increasing the fibre in your diet and increasing the amount of non-alcoholic fluids that you drink. If this fails then fibre supplements such as bran, ispaghula and sterculia are safe. Fybogel® is one such example commonly used for constipation in pregnancy. If you need something stronger then it is best to discuss this with a doctor. Some laxatives such as docusate and lactulose may be prescribed safely for a short time.
- Antihistamines. These are commonly used for people with hay fever. Most manufacturers advise avoiding antihistamines in pregnancy. This is because there are no trials to show they are safe. However, there is no evidence of harm either.
- Decongestants such as pseudoephedrine and xylometazoline often bought for symptoms of the common cold are best avoided in pregnancy.
If you already take regular medication, ideally you will have discussed this with a doctor before becoming pregnant. If you have an unplanned pregnancy, discuss with your doctor as early as possible any medication that you take. In some cases, the risk of taking the medicine has to be balanced against the risk of not taking the medicine, and your condition not being treated.
Are You Pregnant?
Follow these simple pregnancy tips on safety and nutrition to stay healthy throughout the nine months before you give birth to a healthy baby.