Having a Healthy Pregnancy

If you’ve decided to have a baby, the most important thing you can do is to take good care of yourself so you and your baby will be healthy. Girls who get the proper care and make the right choices have a very good chance of having healthy babies.

Prenatal Care

See a doctor as soon as possible after you find out you’re pregnant to begin getting prenatal care (prenatal care is medical care during pregnancy). The sooner you start to get medical care, the better the chances that you and your baby will be healthy.

If you can’t afford to go to a doctor or clinic for prenatal care, social service organizations can help you. Ask a trusted adult, like a parent or school counselor, to help you find low-cost or free care in your community.

During your first visit, the doctor will ask you lots of questions, including the date of your last period. This helps the doctor work out how long you have been pregnant and your due date.

A baby’s due date is only an estimate. In fact, women don’t usually deliver exactly on their due dates. Most babies are born between 38 and 42 weeks after the first day of a woman’s last period, or 36 to 40 weeks after conception (when the sperm fertilizes the egg).

Timelines

A pregnancy is divided into three phases called trimesters. The first trimester is from conception to the end of week 13. The second trimester is from week 14 to the end of week 26. The third trimester is from week 27 to the end of the pregnancy.

The doctor will examine you and do a pelvic exam. Your doctor may also do blood tests, a urine test, and tests for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Doctors do this because some STDs can cause serious medical problems in newborns, so it’s important to get treatment to protect the baby.

The doctor will probably recommend that you get some immunizations, like a Tdap vaccine to protect your baby against pertussis (whooping cough).

Your doctor will explain the types of physical and emotional changes you can expect during pregnancy. He or she will also teach you to how to recognize the signs of possible problems during pregnancy (you might hear your doctor call problems “complications”). Teens are more at risk for certain problems during pregnancy, such as anemia, high blood pressure, and giving birth earlier than usual (called premature delivery).

Your doctor will want you to start taking prenatal vitamins that contain folic acid, calcium, and iron as soon as possible. The doctor may prescribe the vitamins or recommend a brand that you can buy over the counter. These vitamins and minerals help ensure the baby’s and mother’s health as well as prevent some types of birth defects.

Ideally, you should see your doctor once each month for the first 28 weeks of your pregnancy, then every 2 weeks until 36 weeks, then once a week until you deliver the baby. If you have a medical condition such as diabetes that needs careful monitoring during your pregnancy, your doctor will probably want to see you more often.

During visits, your doctor or nurse will check your weight, blood pressure, and urine. The doctor or nurse will measure your abdomen to keep track of the baby’s growth. After the baby’s heartbeat can be heard with a special device, the doctor will listen for it at each visit. Your doctor will probably also send you for some other tests during the pregnancy, such as an ultrasound, to make sure that everything is OK with your baby.

One part of prenatal care is attending classes where moms to be can learn about having a healthy pregnancy and delivery. You can also learn the basics of caring for a new baby. These classes may be offered at hospitals, medical centers, schools, and colleges in your area.

It can be difficult for adults to talk to their doctors about their bodies and even more difficult for teens to do so. Your doctor is there to help you stay healthy during pregnancy and have a healthy baby — and there’s probably not much he or she hasn’t heard! So don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Be frank when your doctor asks questions, even if they seem embarrassing. A lot of the issues the doctor brings up could affect your baby’s health. Think of your doctor not just as someone who can help, but also as someone you can confide in about what’s happening to you.

Changes to Expect in Your Body

Pregnancy causes lots of physical changes in the body. Here are some common ones:

Breast Growth

An increase in breast size is one of the first signs of pregnancy, and the breasts may continue to grow throughout the pregnancy. You may go up several bra sizes during the course of your pregnancy.

Skin Changes

Don’t be surprised if people tell you your skin is “glowing” when you are pregnant — pregnancy causes an increase in blood volume, which can make your cheeks a little pinker than usual. And hormonal changes increase oil gland secretion, which can give your skin a shinier appearance. Acne is also common during pregnancy for the same reason.

Other skin changes caused by pregnancy hormones may include brownish or yellowish patches on the face called chloasma and a dark line on the midline of the lower abdomen, known as the linea nigra.

Also, moles or freckles that you had prior to pregnancy may become bigger and darker. Even the areola, the area around the nipples, becomes darker. Stretch marks are thin pink or purplish lines that can appear on your abdomen, breasts, or thighs.

Except for the darkening of the areola, which can last, these skin changes will usually disappear after you give birth.

Mood Swings

It’s very common to have mood swings during pregnancy. Some girls may also experience depression during pregnancy or after delivery. If you have symptoms of depression such as sadness, changes in sleep patterns, thoughts of hurting yourself, or bad feelings about yourself or your life, tell your doctor so he or she can help you to get treatment.

Pregnancy Discomforts

Pregnancy can cause some uncomfortable side effects. These include:

  • nausea and vomiting (especially early in the pregnancy)
  • leg swelling
  • varicose veins in the legs and the area around the vaginal opening
  • hemorrhoids
  • heartburn and constipation
  • backache
  • fatigue
  • sleep loss

If you have one or more of these side effects, keep in mind that you’re not alone! Ask your doctor for advice on how to deal with these common problems.

If you are pregnant and have bleeding or pain, call the doctor immediately, even if you are not planning to continue the pregnancy.

Things to Avoid

Smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking drugs when you are pregnant put you and your baby at risk for a number of serious problems.

Alcohol

Doctors now believe that it’s not safe to drink any amount of alcohol when you are pregnant. Drinking can harm a developing fetus, putting a baby at risk for birth defects and mental problems.

Smoking

When a woman smokes while she is pregnant, she can have a miscarriage or stillbirth. Her baby might be premature (born early), and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant who is younger than 1 year old.

Drugs

Using drugs such as cocaine or marijuana during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, prematurity, and other medical problems. Babies can also be born addicted to some drugs.

Ask your doctor for help if you are having trouble quitting smoking, drinking, or drugs. Check with your doctor before taking any medication while you are pregnant, including over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies and supplements, and vitamins.

Unsafe Sex

Talk to your doctor about sex during pregnancy. If your doctor says it’s OK to have sex while you’re pregnant, you must use a condom to help prevent getting an STD. Some STDs can cause blindness, pneumonia, or meningitis in newborns, so it’s important to protect yourself and your baby.