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Before You Get Pregnant: A Healthy Pregnancy Starts Before Conception

A healthy pregnancy begins before you even get pregnant. In fact, one of the most crucial times in a baby’s development occurs in the earliest stages of pregnancy – in the first few weeks, which is usually before you even know that you are pregnant. Therefore, what you do before pregnancy can help you and your future baby. More importantly, a healthy pregnancy starts with a healthy you, and good prenatal care is essential for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

Pregnancy Health Checklist

If you are planning on becoming pregnant, there are a number of things you can do beforehand to better prepare yourself for pregnancy, including: 

  • Take a daily multi-vitamin or prenatal vitamin with folic acid.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet (see the Nutrition Checklist for Pregnancy).
  • Avoid smoking, recreational drug use and alcohol consumption before getting pregnant.
  • Undergo a thorough medical check-up to be sure that you don’t have any pre-existing medical conditions that may affect your pregnancy.
  • Check that all of your immunizations are up-to-date. 

Nutrition Checklist for Pregnancy

A well-balanced diet is essential to helping conceive and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. This includes eating a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein-rich foods, to get all the necessary nutrients.

The following are some additional guidelines for proper nutrition: 

  • Choose foods that are high in fiber (whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans). Fiber is more filling and aids in the digestion process.
  • Eat three servings of fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese or calcium-fortified foods (orange juice, soy milk, cereal) daily to boost your calcium intake. You need to consume at least 1,000 mg. of calcium every day. Otherwise, your body may take calcium from your bones, decreasing your bone mass and putting you at risk for osteoporosis. For women who are lactose intolerant, there are lower lactose foods, such as hard cheeses and yogurt, lactose-free milk and enzyme supplements. Calcium supplements also may be an option. Talk to your doctor.
  • Include a good source of iron, like meat, fish, or poultry at meals. The iron in plant foods, like beans and cereals, is best absorbed along with foods that contain vitamin C.
  • Limit caffeine consumption to 300 mg. a day. This includes coffee, black tea, soda and chocolate. An 8-oz. serving of coffee contains 150 mg. A 12-oz. can of soda may contain up to 60 mg. of caffeine.
  • Avoid saccharin, and limit your intake of artificial sweeteners like Nutrasweet and Splenda.
  • Enjoy up to 12 ounces of a variety of fish each week.  Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish, because they contain high levels of mercury, which is harmful to unborn babies.  Avoid raw fish, such as sushi and shellfish.

If you have any questions about proper nutrition during your pregnancy, be sure to consult with your doctor. Registered dietitians also can provide further guidance on any nutrition questions you may have.

Recommended Weight Gain

Many believe pregnancy means “eating for two.” This is simply a myth, and can be an excuse to overeat, which is not healthy for either you or your baby. In fact, overeating and excessive weight gain during pregnancy can cause a number of problems for expectant moms, including more back and leg pain, heartburn, fatigue, high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. It also can lead to larger babies, which can make a normal vaginal delivery much more challenging, increasing your risk for a C-section or potentially injuring your baby.

In your first trimester, you may not need additional calories each day – just be sure you’re eating healthy foods. Normal-weight women need approximately 300 calories more a day (a yogurt with granola, for instance), and should expect to gain about 25 to 35 pounds through her pregnancy. If you were thin when you conceived, you should gain between 28 to 40 pounds during pregnancy. Overweight women should generally gain only 15 to 25 pounds. Consult with your doctor about the recommended caloric intake and weight gain for your pregnancy.

Obesity

With the rising obesity rate in the U.S., proper nutrition has never been more important, particularly for expectant moms and women hoping to conceive. Obesity is a precursor for type 2 diabetes, hypertension, degenerative joint disease, coronary artery disease, hypercholesterolemia, and certain cancers. Women who are obese have a much tougher time conceiving, while babies born to obese mothers are twice as likely to be obese and develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

Genetic Testing

As you begin to plan a family, you may want to consider undergoing genetic counseling, particularly if either you or your partner has any family history of birth defects or recessive disorders.

The following are some tips to help you determine whether genetic counseling is appropriate for you and your partner:

  • Explore the health history and birth-related problems of the families of both prospective parents through the last four generations.
  • Talk to living family members and seek out family documents or stories that may shed light on medical histories. Ask about the conditions we can screen for including:
    • Cystic Fibrosis
    • Dwarfism
    • Huntington Disease
    • Marfan Syndrome
    • Sickle Cell Anemia
    • Tay-Sachs Disease
  • If you begin to see or suspect a pattern, seek further information from any public health records that may be available, such as hospital and physician records, birth certificates, death certificates, school health histories or military records.
  • Share any information collected with your OB/GYN, and ask whether genetic counseling or DNA banking may be appropriate for you.

Find the Right OB/GYN

As an expectant mother, you need support and understanding to help you throughout the course of your pregnancy. At Missouri Baptist Sullivan Hospital, our doctors are committed to helping patients achieve a healthy, happy pregnancy and delivery. With a number of quality OB/GYNs on staff, we’re confident we can help you to find the right doctor.

The following are some key questions to ask prospective OB/GYNs:

  • At which hospital(s) do you regularly perform deliveries?
  • How many times will I see you during the course of my pregnancy?
  • Will you be present during my labor and delivery?
  • If you’re unavailable, who will cover for you?
  • How accessible are you if I have questions after-hours?