Checking in with your Doc
Once you know you are pregnant it is important to choose a health professional who will be there for you through the pregnancy and birth. The earlier in the pregnancy that you do this, the better will be the communication and understanding between you as the pregnancy develops and the more secure you are likely to feel during the birth. After an initial assessment your doc will be able to monitor your health and your baby's development throughout the pregnancy and birth and can provide any recommendations or referrals if needed.
Pre-existing conditions and prescribed medicines: Women with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or epilepsy, for example, must continue treatment during pregnancy. You should discuss this with your doctor as soon as you know you are pregnant, or earlier if you are planning for a future pregnancy. Do not stop or alter the dose of a prescribed medicine without the knowledge and consent of your doctor.
Substances that can affect your pregnancy
Certain substances have been found to be potentially harmful to the future health and development of your child, if taken during pregnancy. These include:
Alcohol: When alcohol is consumed by a pregnant woman it crosses the placenta and enters the baby's bloodstream in similar concentrations as is present in the mother. This can harm the developing brain and nervous system as well as other organs. It can impair nourishment of the growing baby and can even influence the child's facial features. Learning difficulties, a lowered IQ, and behaviour related problems can result.
Nicotine: A woman who smokes while pregnant is at increased risk of a range of problems including ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage and premature labour. Also, women who smoke are twice as likely to give birth to a low weight baby compared to non-smokers. There are increased risks of health problems for the baby, some of which continue into adulthood.
Caffeine: Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola drinks, chocolate, and in some medications. It easily crosses the placenta and enters the baby's bloodstream. Caffeine increases heart rate and metabolism, it is addictive and can cause insomnia, nervousness and headaches, and is a diuretic. NSW Health recommends a limit of 200mg of caffeine a day during pregnancy, the equivalent of two cups of instant coffee or four cups of tea or hot chocolate. Higher amounts have been linked with lower birth weight and in some cases an increased risk of miscarriage and premature birth.
OTC Medication: Before you use any OTC medication during pregnancy, even cough medicine or pain killers, you should check with either your health professional or the chemist as to its safety while you are pregnant. As well, read carefully the 'instructions for use' and 'precautions' that are supplied with the medicine.
Prescription Medicines: Some prescription medications may carry a level of risk to the baby. However, some risks can increase if the medicine is suddenly stopped. As well, any possible risks to the baby need to be weighed against those for the mother (eg in cancer treatments). Discuss your prescription medicines with your doctor as soon as you know you are pregnant.
Illicit Drugs: Included here are Amphetamines, Cannabis, Cocaine, Heroin and Inhalants. Studies on their effects when used during pregnancy are limited due to failure of user reporting, but some of the known effects include birth defects, miscarriage, stillbirth and increased risk of SIDS (these for all except Cannabis). Where Cannabis is used by the pregnant mother there is an increased risk of growth retardation in the infant, as well as sleep and behavioural problems.