Written by Caroline Meyer

It is well known that if mum is ill during pregnancy, there can be consequences for the unborn child. Getting the right care is important to make sure the outcome is for the best of baby and mum. Even without there being an illness, there is a lot to consider to ensure that baby is healthy and happy. It can be overwhelming trying to decide what to do and what not to do as the internet can offer qualified and unqualified advice, which can sometimes appear contradictory or just too much for any expectant mum to have to deal with. 

In the past, women had to deal with all sorts of unsolicited advice from parents and relatives and much of what they were told to do, may not have been backed up by any medical research at all. Women were given all sorts of herbal mixtures and even alcohol. In some cases, women were told to stay in bed for 9 months, even when they were perfectly healthy. Some people recommended exercise to prepare for the coming labour, while others said there should be rest and relaxation to avoid overexcitement which could lead to losing the baby. 

With the vast amount of research that has been done over the years, more knowledge of the risks involved for pregnant women and improvement in diagnoses and inspection equipment, advise is generally personalized and is more trustworthy. This means that there is a lot more that can be done to protect your health and that of your unborn baby. While there is a lot that you can do, in some cases there is nothing you can do. In these cases, you have to try and keep your stress levels lower as far as possible and not dwell on things you cannot control. 

If you haven’t already started improving your health and stopping bad habits, then pregnancy is a good time to do so for your health and that of your unborn baby. Stop smoking, avoid alcohol consumption and the use of unprescribed drugs and start improving your diet. One of the main problems leading to dangers during pregnancy is obesity. A large portion of women are overweight, which can lead to a variety of complications. Women that are obese during pregnancy are at higher risk of blood clots and delivering prematurely. They may also be at higher risk for diabetes and heart problems. While it would be better to start an exercise program and lose some weight before becoming pregnancy, there is no harm in doing mild exercise for 30 minutes at a time, 5 times a week in most cases. Discuss this with your doctor to ensure there are no issues for you personally. 

Even just walking is better than no exercise at all. Some research suggests that children born from obese mums have a greater chance of becoming obese later in life as well. This may actually be related to a gene that turns on during pregnancy and can have an effect for up to 2 generations. 

Other issues such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohns disease, lupus and other autoimmune diseases have a higher risk of preeclampsia. This also leads to a higher risk of heart disease later in life. Your doctor should be able to offer advice on reducing the risk of preeclampsia as far as is possible. 

Preeclampsia can result in severe hypertension, preterm delivery, seizures, stroke and can even lead to death in a small number of cases.  Another risk for issues during pregnancy includes anxiety and depression. A mum that is experiencing mental health issues may not eat properly or otherwise take care of herself during the 40 weeks of pregnancy.  Taking anti-depressant medication comes with its own risks such as premature delivery. Discuss with your doctor and mental health professional the options available if you suffer from any mental health issues before or during your pregnancy. For some women, psychotherapy and other approaches may be recommended instead of drug interventions. 

Keep a good hygiene level up during pregnancy including washing hands often. If you have other children, instil healthy hygiene habits in them too to prevent infections being carried home from school or day care.  While it may be impossible to avoid all illnesses when pregnant, you should try and avoid infection as far as possible. Where possible, get vaccinated before you fall pregnant against tetanus, pertussis, diphtheria (3 in 1 shot), pneumonia, hepatitis A and B and the current flu vaccine. If you should fall ill, ensure you stay hydrated and take a recommended medication to reduce your fever where necessary.  High fevers during pregnancy are correlated with autism and other conditions in the child. Ensuring you are on a good regimen of multi-vitamins and spacing your children out with at least a year between pregnancies can reduce the risk of developing autism. 

Try and avoid contact with chemicals and contaminants as far as possible during pregnancy. Some chemicals that are in products being used daily can cause harm to the unborn child.  This include phthalates found in some beauty products, bisphenol A that can be found in the lining of some food cans and in plastics as well as the chemicals used in flame retardants. Do not use plastic in the microwave or dishwasher (including baby bottles) as this can cause the chemicals in the products to leach out. 

It is impossible to account for each and every eventuality during pregnancy and there will be instances that you cannot control.  Improve your health and that of your unborn baby as far as possible by avoiding chemical you know are harmful, eating in a healthful manner, using supplements recommended by your doctor and mild exercise. For everything else, deal with it as it happens. Try and relax when possible and reduce anxiety. Sleep well and look after yourself.