Medical Minute: 2 Things to Know Before you Get Pregnant

There are a few things every woman should know when it comes to getting pregnant. A healthy pregnancy starts well before you start showing your adorable baby bump. The 2 most common rules of thumb are Don’t drink or smoke. Here’s why:

Don’t smoke! Smoking can damage the fetus in several ways and may cause low birthweight, stillbirths, preterm births, and/or birth defects. Babies born to smokers may also have problems like poor lung development, increased risk of SIDS, growth or development deficiencies, asthma, or behavioral problems.

Babies of mothers who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have reduced fetal growth and low birthweight. However, according to the FDA, if a woman quits smoking early in her pregnancy, she increases her chance of delivering a healthy baby.

Don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol consumption by the mother is a leading cause of preventable birth defects in the fetus and is the only known cause of mental retardation that is completely preventable. Everything a mother drinks goes to the fetus and is broken down more slowly in the immature body of the fetus. This can cause the alcohol levels to remain high and stay in the baby’s body longer. Even light or moderate drinking can affect the developing fetus. Because no amount of alcohol is safe, the US Surgeon General recommends that pregnant women avoid alcohol during pregnancy. An infant born to a mother who drinks alcohol during pregnancy can have problems included in a group of disorders called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). FASDs include the following:

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS): these are the most severe effects that can occur when a woman drinks during pregnancy,and include fetal death. Infants born with FAS have abnormal facial features and growth and central nervous system (CNS) problems, including mental retardation.
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND): children with ARND may not have full FAS but have learning and behavioral problems due to prenatal exposure to alcohol. These problems may include mathematical difficulties, impaired memory or attention, impulse control and/or judgment problems, and poor school performance.
  • Alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD): birth defects related to prenatal alcohol exposure can include abnormalities in the heart, kidneys, bones, and/or hearing

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