Pregnancy: Everything you need to know for your journey

Pregnancy: Everything you need to know for your journey

Key takeaways:

  • Arm yourself with tips, tricks and information to prepare for your pregnancy journey.

  • Find out what to do before you get pregnant.

  • Learn about early pregnancy.

  • See what to expect during pregnancy. 

[7 MIN READ]

Whether you’re a new or experienced parent, you may have a lot of questions about your pregnancy. At Providence, we are devoted to creating a patient-centered, caring and open environment designed to celebrate your pregnancy and help you find joy while relieving your anxiety.

Before you get pregnant

If you’re planning on having a baby, you’ll have nine months to prepare for motherhood but what about getting ready for pregnancy? There are important steps to take before you try to conceive. Read on and make sure you’re as healthy as can be — for yourself and your baby.

7 things to do before you get pregnant

See your physician
Schedule a doctor’s appointment to discuss your family’s health history and any ongoing conditions, such as diabetes or asthma. Ensure that your immunizations are up to date and inform your provider of any medications or supplements you’re taking. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory or search for one in your area.

Stop smoking and drinking
Smoking and drugs, including alcohol, may make it more difficult to get pregnant. If you do get pregnant, these substances can increase the risk of miscarriage, SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), preterm birth, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and other disabilities. Don’t be afraid to tell your doctor if you need help quitting. Also, it’s a good idea to dial down your caffeine consumption. Drinking too much caffeine (more than two cups of coffee or five cans of soda daily) may make it harder to conceive.

Eat a nutritious diet
Cut back on empty calories, such as sugary drinks and junk food. Fill up on high-protein foods, produce, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Seafood contains mercury, which may cause birth defects. Limit your seafood to 12 ounces of fish a week and avoid large ocean fish, such as shark.

Reach a healthy weight
Ideally, you want to hit your target weight before you get pregnant. To boost your chances of having the healthiest pregnancy possible, it’s best not to be underweight or overweight. Regardless of how much you weigh when you get pregnant, don’t try to lose weight during pregnancy.

Take vitamin B
Folic acid, a B vitamin, decreases the risk of birth defects, particularly in the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Start taking a daily vitamin with at least .4 milligrams (400 mcg) of folic acid before you get pregnant, as a baby’s brain and spinal cord begin to develop early in the pregnancy.

Exercise regularly
Exercise can help your body better handle the changes and stress that pregnancy brings. If you already exercise, you can probably stick with the same program for the majority of your pregnancy. If you don’t exercise, aim for 30 minutes of brisk activity five days a week and continue that schedule while you’re pregnant.

Kick back
Try to minimize the stress in your life. Get as much rest and relaxation as you can. You’ll miss those peaceful moments once the baby comes!

Learn what to do before you get pregnant.

Early pregnancy

Are you pregnant? Pregnancy symptoms can vary, but one of the most significant signs of pregnancy is a missed period. Other possible symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Swollen or tender breasts
  • Spotting or light bleeding
  • Fatigue or tiredness

To be sure, take a pregnancy test at home. Simply knowing for sure will bring you some peace of mind and allow you to start planning for a healthy future. At-home pregnancy tests are up to 99 percent accurate when they’re done properly and at the right time. They can be purchased at most grocery stores, pharmacies and even some discount stores.

All at-home tests work by measuring the amount of HCG hormone in a woman’s urine. HCG levels increase as a pregnancy matures. You’ll get the most accurate results if you take the test five days or more after you ovulate. The closer you are to the date when your next period should start, the more accurate the results will be. If you take the test too soon, the HCG level may be too low to indicate pregnancy.

If you get a positive result on an at-home test, make an appointment with your health care provider as soon as possible. For most women, this first visit takes place between the eighth and tenth week of pregnancy. The sooner you see a health care provider, the sooner you can get prenatal care for you and your baby.

Learn more about early pregnancy.

Choosing a healthcare provider

When it comes to prenatal care, you have choices. These health care providers are experts in caring for pregnant women and their unborn babies, but each type of specialist has a different skill set.

Certified nurse-midwife
Certified nurse-midwives or CNMs are registered nurses who have advanced training in women’s health and maternity care. Along with female reproductive care, such as annual exams and Pap tests, CNMs offer prenatal, labor and postpartum care.

CNMs usually treat women with uncomplicated pregnancies but, if they consult with an OB-GYN, they can treat women who have high-risk pregnancies. If you choose a CNM as your prenatal care provider, you may be able to deliver your baby at home, at a birth center or in a hospital. Ask your CNM where she delivers babies and tell her if you have a preference.

Family medicine / Family practice doctors
Family practitioners are doctors who specialize in preventive health and medical care for people of all ages. Some family physicians deliver babies, but many do not. If you have a family physician, be sure to ask if he or she delivers babies. Also, they are not surgeons, so if a mother needs to deliver her baby by cesarean section, the family physician will call a surgeon to deliver the baby.

If you select a certified nurse-midwife or an OB-GYN for your prenatal care, you can transfer to a family practitioner after your baby is born. The family practitioner can provide all primary care you and your family, including your new baby, need now and in the future.

OB-GYNs
The abbreviation, OB-GYN, stands for obstetrics and gynecology. An obstetrician is a doctor who delivers babies. A gynecologist is a doctor who treats diseases of the female reproductive organs. OB-GYNs offer prenatal care, manage labor and delivery, and provide postpartum care for mothers. Roughly 85 percent of women receive prenatal care from OB-GYNs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If an OB-GYN delivers your baby, you will need to select a pediatrician, a family practitioner or a nurse practitioner to be your baby’s primary care provider after he or she is born.

Doulas
A doula is a woman trained to provide physical comfort and emotional support to expectant moms before, during and after childbirth. Doulas are not medical personnel, but they can provide information, help during labor and advocate for the mother.

Some women hire doulas months before their babies are born. If you do this, you can expect the doula to spend time getting to know you, answering your questions about pregnancy and labor, and helping you create a birth plan. If you have a doula, she will stay with you during labor. She will help you change positions and use relaxation techniques to ease labor pains. Doulas may also support the new family at home during the postpartum period.

Many doulas undergo training and complete certification programs in order to provide support to patients during labor and delivery. Research studies show that having a doula present during labor can be associated with health benefits, such as shorter deliveries, fewer c-sections, less use of medications, increased breastfeeding and more satisfying birth experiences for mothers. The benefits vary, however, based on the doula’s training and skills, the cultural setting, and family support available to the mother among other factors.

7 bodily changes to expect during pregnancy

Everyone knows the main sign of pregnancy: an expanding waistline. Some of the other physical and emotional changes that occur during pregnancy take mothers-to-be by surprise. Pregnancy actually affects every part of a woman’s body, from head to toe. Here are seven of those changes you might expect when you’re expecting.

Hormones

Women undergo a range of dramatic changes when pregnancy hormones are released into the body. Led by estrogen and progesterone, this potent cocktail of hormones is responsible for mood changes, the skin “glow” of pregnancy, nausea, fatigue, blemishes and a host of other side effects. Of course, these hormones are also critical for the development of a healthy baby, from the moment of conception to birth. If you’re planning to become pregnant, it’s important to learn how hormonal changes might affect you before they kick in. If your mood seems out of balance, consult your doctor for advice.

Hair and nails

It is not uncommon for women to experience changes in their hair and nails during pregnancy. Hormonal changes can cause both hair loss and hair thickening. You may even see hair start to grow where it doesn’t belong. Most of these changes return to normal after the baby is born, but excess hair on the face, for example, can be removed cosmetically. Nails often grow faster during pregnancy. While this may be a welcome change, they may also become more brittle or misshapen. Changing your diet to include foods that boost nail strength, such as lean proteins and leafy green vegetables, can help prevent nail breakage without resorting to chemical nail strengtheners.

Vision

During pregnancy, some women experience vision changes, such as increased blurriness, nearsightedness, dryness or eye sensitivity. The specific causes of these changes aren’t entirely understood, but it is thought that hormones, fluid retention and blood circulation all play a role. Vision typically returns to its pre-pregnancy state after the baby is born, but some pre-existing vision conditions can worsen – or improve! Be sure to see an ophthalmologist during and after your pregnancy if you have any concerns about pre-existing conditions or have unusual symptoms.

Mouth and teeth

Here, again we can thank hormones for pregnancy-related changes, in this case affecting the mouth and teeth. Some women experience gum disease or tooth decay because increased hormones can affect resistance to bacteria in the mouth. And, if the mom doesn’t get enough calcium in her diet, the growing baby may “steal” the calcium it needs from the mom’s bones and teeth. If you’re pregnant, get your teeth and gums checked regularly and observe good dental hygiene by flossing and brushing at least twice a day.

Breasts

Breasts go through a series of changes during pregnancy. As breasts grow larger in preparation for feeding the baby, they typically feel tender and may leak an early form of milk called colostrum. The areola may enlarge and darken. Veins may darken. Stretch marks may develop, and the nipples may protrude more than they did before pregnancy. Be sure to wear a well-fitting bra to support your breasts. If you develop small, painful lumps in your breasts, they may be caused by blocked milk ducts. Massage and warm compresses (applying a warm washcloth) may help clear the ducts. If the lumps don’t go away after a few days, have them examined during your next doctor visit.

Weight gain and fluid retention

As the unborn baby grows and the pregnant woman gains weight, she tends to move less. This leads to fluid retention, which can account for 25 percent of pregnancy weight gain. This additional weight slows down the circulation of blood and other bodily fluids, especially in the lower limbs. Swelling of the legs, feet, hands and even face can result. To ease the discomfort of fluid retention and swelling, avoid standing for long periods, eat more potassium, and reduce the amount of caffeine and sodium in your diet.

Skin

Many women experience changes in the appearance of their skin during pregnancy. Most of these changes are temporary although some, like stretch marks, can be permanent. Stretch marks are caused by the physical stretching of the skin combined with the effects of hormonal changes on the skin’s elasticity. They may appear on the breasts and abdomen during the third trimester. Another change is called hyperpigmentation. It occurs when areas of the body or face develop a deeper color. Sun exposure worsens the discoloration, so be sure to use a broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen daily during pregnancy. Also, the color of moles and freckles can darken, and you might develop pregnancy-specific rashes or boils. While these are generally harmless, it’s a good idea to have your skin checked if you see something unusual.

Learn more about bodily changes during pregnancy.

During pregnancy

Exercise

You might have a lot of questions when it comes to exercising during pregnancy. Is it safe? Do I have to? The truth is, exercise is important during pregnancy — it can help with some common discomforts and even prepare your body for childbirth.

Benefits

According to the American Pregnancy Association, exercising for 30 minutes on most or all days can benefit your health during pregnancy. In fact, exercising for just 20 minutes, 3 or 4 days a week is still beneficial. All you need to do is be active and get your blood flowing. Benefits include:

  • Reducing backaches, constipation, bloating and swelling
  • Helping prevent or treat gestational diabetes
  • Increasing your energy
  • Improving your mood
  • Helping you sleep better
  • Keeping you fit during pregnancy

Safety

If you are doing a certain type of exercise regularly before becoming pregnant, it’s probably fine to continue to participate during your pregnancy, according to the American Pregnancy Association. But it’s important to avoid high-impact exercise and not to overdo it.

Your baby is surrounded by amniotic fluid in the amniotic sac, which is nestled in the uterus and surrounded by organs, muscles and your physical body. This creates a safe environment for your developing baby.

Health and nutrition

During pregnancy, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the nutrients both you and your baby need. Healthy eating during pregnancy is critical to your baby’s growth and development, which is why it’s important to eat from a variety of food groups. According to the American Pregnancy society, you should consume an extra 300 calories a day.

Make sure you’re getting enough foods from the following food groups:

  • Fruits and vegetables: These contain important nutrients like Vitamin C and Folic Acid. You should have at least 2-4 servings of fruit and 4 or more servings of vegetables daily.
  • Bread and grains: These are the body’s main source of energy. These contain nutrients like iron, B Vitamins, fiber and some protein. You should consumer between 6-11 servings of bread and grains daily.
  • Protein: Things like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and beans contain protein, B vitamins and iron. However, fish that contain high levels of mercury should be avoided. You should consume three servings of protein daily.
  • Dairy: Calcium is found in dairy products and is essential for building strong teeth and bones, normal blood clotting, and muscle and nerve function. You should aim to consume at least 1,000 mg daily to support a pregnancy. This equals about four servings of dairy products daily.

While your main source of vitamins and nutrients should come from your diet, a daily prenatal vitamin can help fill small gaps. Prenatal vitamins should be taken up to three months before conception, if possible.

The 5 most common misconceptions about pregnancy

“As an expectant mother, you need to learn what truly is and isn’t safe for you and your developing baby, based on the best available medical evidence,” says Lina Wong, DO, a board-certified OB/GYN at St. Jude Heritage Medical Group. “With all of the frequently poor advice and even misleading material about pregnancy found online and in popular books, it's important that you ask questions and listen to your OB/GYN or perinatologist, your primary care physician and other trusted, medically-trained experts you may have on your care team, such as a laborist, certified nurse midwife or obstetrical nurse.”

Dr. Wong dispels some common misconceptions about pregnancy:

Don't get vaccinated when pregnant

Centers for Disease Control guidelines generally recommend certain vaccines, like Tdap and inactivated flu vaccine, for use in pregnant women. In fact, many vaccinations you get while pregnant help protect your baby until he or she can be vaccinated after being born. Other "live vaccines" for human papillomavirus (HPV) and measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) are not generally given to women known to be pregnant. Dr. Wong says, "It's imperative that you to talk to your doctors to see which vaccines you should receive to safeguard your health and the health of your baby from serious diseases like hepatitis A, hepatitis B and influenza."

Be sure to talk to your doctor about the COVID-19 vaccine and what is safe for you during your pregnancy.

Expectant mothers don't have to worry about drinking alcohol during pregnancy, as long they drink in moderation.

A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pregnant women avoid alcohol completely. Aside from potentially measuring low on the growth curve for height and weight, babies who have mothers who abuse alcohol during pregnancy are at risk of damage in their speech, learning and neurological development, or any other number of extremely serious conditions on the spectrum of fetal alcohol disorders.

Exercise during pregnancy will send you into premature labor

You may have heard that exercise during pregnancy could harm your baby or cause premature birth. However, regular daily exercise can help you manage the common discomforts of pregnancy and increase your chances of having a vaginal delivery free of complications. Exercise can also aid in postpartum recovery.

You can't eat any fish and cheese until after the baby is born

Many pregnant women have been told that they should avoid fish and cheese altogether, but there are some safe options. Salmon and other fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids like DHA help your baby’s mental and visual development. Avoid larger fish that tend to be higher in mercury, like swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tuna steaks. Cheese is a terrific source of calcium, and hard cheeses like cheddar, Gouda and Parmesan are generally considered safe for pregnant women to eat. It’s best to avoid soft cheeses like Gorgonzola, Brie and goat cheese because they are more likely to contain listeria, a type of germ. If you become infected with listeria while pregnant, your baby could become infected as well, and you could be at increased risk of miscarriage or premature delivery.

When you're pregnant, you need to eat for two

Carrying a baby does not require you to double your caloric intake. "There are certain nutrients you need more of, like folic acid, but overeating isn't good for either of you," says Dr. Wong. "If you gain too much weight while pregnant, you are at increased risk of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. You may also be more likely to need a C-section due to having a larger baby."

Learn more about misconceptions about pregnancy.

Stay tuned for additional information that we will add regarding childbirth and the postpartum period.

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Find a doctor

If you have questions about your pregnancy, talk to your OB/GYN or another member of your care team. If you’re thinking about starting a family and want to speak to a professional, you can find a compassionate expert through our provider directory or search for one in your area:

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Related resources

7 things to do before you get pregnant

Early pregnancy: So many choices

7 bodily changes to expect during pregnancy

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.