Thinking About Having a Baby?
Preconception Counseling Can Help Ensure a Healthy Pregnancy
Deciding to have a baby is a big decision and like any other monumental life change, it's important to do some planning. If you are thinking about adding a bundle of joy to your family in the next year or so, you should consider getting preconception counseling to head off any possible complications and ensure that you and your baby will be safe and healthy.
"There are a lot of things that can affect the baby in the first couple months after conception, often before a woman knows she is pregnant," said Dr. Sudeepthi Prasad, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology (OB/Gyn) and is a member of the medical staff at Washington Hospital. "The first two months are critical. The baby's spine and organs are forming. With some planning, the mother can take steps to modify certain risk factors to ensure the healthy development in those early months and all throughout the pregnancy."
Dr. Prasad is part of a team of board-certified OB/Gyn physicians with the Washington Township Medical Foundation who are focused on women's health, offering a range of leading-edge services from obstetrics through the many facets of gynecology.
With preconception counseling, prospective parents meet with their OB/Gyn to determine certain risk factors and ways to avoid them. She recommends that couples schedule a counseling session three to six months before they start trying to conceive. The counseling session covers a number of issues that can affect the baby's development and the mother's health.
"We need to assess the risk for any potential complications," Dr. Prasad said. "We learn about their medical histories as well as lifestyle factors like whether they smoke or drink alcohol."
It's important to determine if the prospective mother has any health conditions that may affect the development of the baby or her own health during pregnancy. Many of the risk factors associated with certain health issues can be controlled.
"We want to know if she has had any abnormal Pap smears or any uterine abnormalities," she explained. "We also ask if she has been pregnant or had any miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies. If she already has a child, we need to know if her first delivery was vaginal or by C-section. Does she have a chronic illness like diabetes or high blood pressure? These can all affect how we handle the current pregnancy."
Certain medications can also affect the health of the baby, so women are asked what medications they take during the counseling session, including over-the-counter medicines. For example, ibuprofen can result in developmental abnormalities and decreased fluid around the baby, which can lead to other problems such as damage to the fetal kidneys.
Reducing the Risks
Women are counseled on ways they can reduce some of the risks, for example quitting smoking if they use tobacco and avoiding alcohol. Prospective mothers are also encouraged to start taking a prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid to reduce the risk for birth defects of the brain and spine.
Dr. Prasad said women who have had an ectopic pregnancy, where the egg settles and is fertilized outside the womb, are much more likely to have another one. Those who are at risk should get their blood tested and have an ultrasound done before the normal eight weeks, she added.
Women with high blood pressure are at risk of developing preeclampsia. If undiagnosed, it can lead to eclampsia, which can prevent the baby from receiving enough blood from the placenta. Preeclampsia or eclampsia can cause serious health problems for both mother and baby. It can cause the mother to have a seizure, stroke, or heart failure and the baby to be growth restricted and possibly be born prematurely, leading to learning disabilities and cerebral palsy.
"Preeclampsia can occur after about 20 weeks and is very dangerous," Dr. Prasad said. "The pregnancy has to be closely monitored. The only treatment for preeclampsia is to deliver the baby so often we have to induce labor early."
Women who have diabetes have an increased risk for complications during pregnancy and some women who don't have diabetes can develop gestational diabetes while they are pregnant.
"Women with diabetes have to be monitored very closely during their pregnancies," Dr. Prasad said. "Washington Hospital offers a program called 'Sweet Success' that can help women keep their blood sugar levels under control to prevent some of the complications."
To learn more about preconception counseling and other women's health services offered by the Washington Township Medical Foundation, visit www.mywtmf.com. For more about Washington Hospital, go to www.whhs.com