Many factors affect the development of a fetus into a healthy child, some which are beyond your control and others that are within your control. Here are ten of the most common pregnancy risk factors that can be controlled or influenced:
- Smoking – Smoking is not only bad for you, but bad for your baby as well. Smoking during pregnancy reduces the amount of oxygen that the baby receives and increases the risk of miscarriage, bleeding, and morning sickness. Chemicals inhaled while smoking may lead to other health problems with the baby. Reduced birth weight, premature birth, increased risk of SIDS, and stillbirth are other possible consequences. Pregnant women should also avoid second hand smoke.
- Alcohol – Drinking can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, including symptoms like low birth weight, medical problems, and behavior abnormalities. As soon as you know you are pregnant, stop drinking. For more detailed information on problems that can be caused by alcohol, visit http://www.nofas.org.
- Caffeine – There are many conflicting studies about caffeine and pregnancy and some believe that caffeine is not as harmful as it was once thought to be. Nevertheless, the FDA warns against caffeine consumption during pregnancy and suggests quitting or reducing consumption at the very least. Caffeine has been shown to affect fetal heart rates and awake time (fetuses grow when sleeping). Decaffeinated coffee can also be harmful since producers often add additional chemicals to remove the caffeine. Caffeine can also increase risk of stretch marks. Suddenly quitting coffee intake can cause headaches; so most experts recommend gradually reducing the amount consumed.
- Drugs and Herbal Remedies – Always be careful about drugs or herbal remedies that are not prescribed by a doctor. These substances may affect the development of your unborn child.
- Nutrition – Good nutrition is crucial to a developing child, particularly getting enough folic acid. Lack of folic acid can cause birth defects. At least 400-1000 micrograms of this B vitamin is suggested (about ten times more if you’ve already had a child with neural tube birth defects) starting one month before pregnant and throughout the entire pregnancy. Leafy vegetables, orange juice, and beans are some natural sources of folic acid. Many stores sell vitamins with folic acid.
- Exercise – Moderate exercise is helpful as it improves the mother’s mental state and can increase oxygen flow to the fetus. However, over-exertion can be dangerous. Most experts recommend reducing your exercise intensity during pregnancy. Activities like walking, swimming, and yoga are popular for pregnant women.
- Prenatal Care – Regular doctor visits are important to your baby’s development. The body undergoes many changes during pregnancy. Some side effects may be completely normal, whereas other may not. Regular monitoring by a professional will help ensure that your baby will be born healthy.
- Multiple sex partners – Multiple sex partners can increase risk of STD’s, which in turn may lead to birth and pregnancy complications, like low birth weight or premature birth.
- Exposure to chemicals – During pregnancy, reduce exposure to unnatural chemicals, particularly pesticides in food. Many people now eat organic produce, which is grown without chemicals. The simplest precaution to take before consuming vegetables or fruits is to wash them thoroughly. Also, removing the outer surface of vegetables can be helpful since most pesticides will rest on the outside of the vegetable or fruit.
- Other factors – Many other factors can affect fetal development, including heart disease, the mother’s age (before 15 years and after 35 years is riskier), asthma, excessive stress or depression, diseases, and bleeding. Consult your physician if you are affected by any of these conditions.
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