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OB/GYN

Prenatal Care

Prenatal Care Important for Expectant Mothers

Prenatal Nutrition - Eating for Two? Not so fast, Mom!

Pregnancy is a time of great excitement as the expectant mother eagerly anticipates the arrival of her baby. In most cases, women don’t experience unusual problems during their pregnancy. Women who take good care of their bodies throughout pregnancy and have frequent prenatal exams can usually avoid complications during delivery and have a healthy baby.

But in some instances, the expectant mother and her developing fetus are at a higher risk of having a medical complication. Women who are 35 or older or who have had previous problems with a pregnancy (e.g., C-section, baby with low birth weight, pre-term birth) are considered to be at higher risk. In addition, women-and their fetuses-may be at higher risk if they have a preexisting health problem such as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, kidney problems, autoimmune disease, or a sexually transmitted disease. Be sure to tell your doctor about any of these conditions or factors.

If the mother smokes or is around smoke, both she and her baby are at risk for health problems, including low birth weight, breathing problems and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). For your baby’s and your own health, avoid smoke before, during and after pregnancy.

Drinking any amount of alcohol at any time during pregnancy puts the baby at risk for a permanent type of brain damage called "fetal alcohol syndrome."

Taking certain medicines, especially pain medicines, or illicit drugs during pregnancy can cause the baby to have serious and sometimes permanent health problems. Women who are or who plan to become pregnant should check with their doctors before taking any medicines and get help if they have a drug habit.

Women who are pregnant should also get prenatal screening to make sure their baby is developing normally. While most newborn babies are healthy, some are born with various medical problems. There are screening tests for expectant mothers to check for some of the more common health problems. These problems include:

  • Down syndrome. Babies born with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome #21, which causes delayed growth, intellectual disability and possible abnormalities of the heart and digestive tract.
  • Trisomy 18. Babies born with Trisomy 18 have an extra copy of chromosome #18, which causes severe intellectual disability and life-threatening birth defects.
  • Open neural tube defects (ONTDs). Open neural tube defects are birth defects involving the skull and spine. Babies who have anencephaly (failure of the bones of the skull to close) are usually stillborn or die shortly after birth. Spina bifida cystica (an opening in the spine) results in nerve damage, which can cause paralysis and/or intellectual disability.
  • Various tests, including the First Trimester Screen, the Quad Screen, the Stepwise Sequential Screen and the Integrated Screen, can help determine if the baby is at increased risk for any of these health problems. Ask your doctor if any of these tests are right for you. In addition, meeting with a genetic counselor may be helpful for any mother who will be 35 years of age at the expected time of delivery; had a previous pregnancy with a chromosomal abnormality or other type of genetic disorder; had a previous pregnancy with a birth defect; or has a family history of health problems.

Women who are pregnant can safeguard their health and the health of their baby by following these guidelines:

  • Don’t smoke or drink alcohol
  • Get the TDAP vaccine (between 27 and 36 weeks gestation)
  • Get a flu shot
  • Eat healthy meals
  • Take a multivitamin with 400 to 800 milligrams of folic acid every day
  • Ask your doctor if over-the-counter and prescription medicines are safe for you (including dietary and herbal supplements)
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Avoid hot baths or saunas
  • Avoid X-rays
  • Avoid chemicals and other toxic substances
  • Seek medical attention for any underlying health problem
  • Ronald L. Thomas, MD, director, Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, West Penn Allegheny Health System, pointed out that obstetrical specialists not only give the expectant mother reassurance, but they also empower her to prepare for any and all eventualities.

“We strive to indentify the rare situation where the mother or the baby has problems or potential problems,” he said. “In those cases, we try to use all the tools available within a tertiary/quaternary healthcare system to maximize the outcomes for both patients. We provide hope and support; we make decisions about where, when and how babies are born and prior to that decision we try to involve the parents as much as possible in the decision-making process. This can lift a heavy a burden of stress from expecting parents.”

Added Dr. Thomas: “West Penn Allegheny Health System has a team of specialists who have extensive experience caring for women who may have a high-risk pregnancy,” he said. “Our High-Risk Obstetrics and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Program combines the latest technology with personalized care to ensure the confidence of both the expectant mother and her physician.”


To be referred to an obstetrical specialist, call 412-DOCTORS (412.362.8677).

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