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Frequently Asked Questions About Pregnancy

What should I take for a headache?

Most doctors say that aspirin is fine for most of your pregnancy. You should avoid it in the last month. Tylenol, or an analgesic based on acetaminophen, is also recommended for headaches, but be sure to ask your doctor before taking any medication during pregnancy.

When should I call my doctor about a headache?

If you are in your second or third trimester and experience a bad headache, or a headache for the first time during your pregnancy, you should contact your doctor. If you have a severe headache that comes on suddenly, won't go away, and is unlike any you have ever experienced, you should call your doctor. You should contact your doctor if you have a headache that worsens and is accompanied by vision problems, speech problems, drowsiness, and/or numbness. Also call your doctor if your headache is accompanied by a stiff neck and fever.

I have terrible allergies. Is there anything my doctor is going to be able to recommend?

For some women, pregnancy can feel like a bad head cold. The increased volume of blood to your mucus membranes can make the lining of your respiratory tract swell. You may even experience nosebleeds. Fortunately, there are safe medications available to ease the symptoms, so consult with your doctor. See about taking extra vitamin C. A humidifier can also be helpful. If you experience nosebleeds as a result of allergies, try packing the nostril with gauze and then pinching your nose between your thumb and forefinger. To shrink the blood vessels and reduce bleeding, try putting an ice pack on your nose.

If I develop an infection, are there any antibiotics safe for expectant moms?

Yes. Pharmaceutical companies are coming up with new antibiotics all the time, and a number of them are safe for pregnancy. Many doctors believe that natural and synthetic penicillins are the safest antibiotics to take during pregnancy, so if you are not allergic to these oldest weapons against infection, you are definitely in luck. If you do get sick, make sure that your obstetrician is aware of anything your family doctor or another specialist may be prescribing.

What are the dangers of X-rays to my unborn baby?

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the maximum safe fetal radiation dose during pregnancy is 5 rad, or the equivalent of 50,000 dental X-rays or 250 mammograms. CT scans, fluoroscopic studies, and nuclear medicine tests involve slightly higher doses than conventional X-rays, but in general still fall well within the range of acceptable exposure. In each case, the benefits of imaging need to be weighed against the potential risk to the fetus, and if at all possible, tests involving radiation should be avoided in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Can ultrasounds give misleading information?

While it's possible that you may be having a baby boy even if his external sex organs aren't visible in the ultrasound and therefore you may incorrectly think you are having a girl, most technicians won't state your baby's gender unless they are absolutely certain. If the sonogram indicates a due date that seems wrong, you might ask, "Could I possibly have dated the start of my pregnancy incorrectly?" Experts say that an ultrasound done at sixteen weeks is more accurate in regards to gestational age than an ultrasound done later in your pregnancy. When dating the length of a pregnancy, the ultrasound technician can be accurate within a few days. Ultrasounds date your pregnancy from the point of conception, which is a few days different from the point of your last period. Later ultrasounds are more accurate when determining your baby's gender. A very clear image must be obtained for the ultrasound to determine whether you are expecting a boy or a girl, and this may be more difficult to see in the early stages.

What is toxoplasmosis, and should I worry about getting it?

Toxoplasmosis is rare, but it is a virus that can affect your baby in the womb. When cats are allowed to run freely outside they can end up with a parasite that settles in the intestines and is passed on through cat feces. Toxoplasmosis can cause brain damage and other medical problems in your unborn child. Cats also frequent gardens and sandboxes, so wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly after being outside. Don't clean any litter boxes during your pregnancy (ask your partner or a friend to help you).

Do folic acid supplements really make that much of a difference in preventing certain birth defects?

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), when taken one month before conception and throughout the first trimester, folic acid supplements have been proven to reduce the risk for an NTD-affected pregnancy by 50 to 70 percent.

Why do I feel so hot and sweaty?

Your metabolism works overtime during pregnancy. Your body is burning more calories, and as a result, you often feel warm. An increase in blood supply to the surface of your skin, as well as hormones, all have an effect on how hot you feel. Keep cool by dressing in natural fibers and layering clothes so that you can always cool off by removing a layer. Hop in the shower; pat on a little talcum powder afterwards. You may need to change antiperspirants if your normal brand isn't working. To avoid dehydration as your body is working hard to burn calories and produce more blood, drink plenty of water.

I have splotches of discolored skin on my face and abdomen. Is this normal?

Yes. Pregnancy hormones can cause hyperpigmentation of your skin, which makes certain areas of your skin (most commonly around the forehead, nose, cheeks, abdomen, and areolas) to darken. These discolored spots are usually dark on light-skinned women and light on dark-skinned women. Don't worry, though-these discolored patches will fade and eventually go away after your baby is born.

Does intercourse hurt the baby?

Unless you have a high-risk pregnancy, you are not going to harm your baby by having sex. Sex is quite safe in a normal pregnancy. Vaginal bleeding, a history of miscarriage or premature labor, or a diagnosis of placental problems are good reasons to restrict intercourse, however. During the last month before your due date, you also should proceed with caution. Ask your practitioner if you have any concerns.

I'm getting varicose veins in my legs. Is this common in pregnancy?

The hair-fine marks, also known as spider veins, usually appear on the lower legs and are caused when increased blood volume and pressure damage the valves that regulate blood flow up out of the blood vessels of the legs. The result is pooled blood in the vein and that telltale squiggly red or blue line.

Supportive stockings, putting your feet up, resting on your left side, and taking an occasional walk when you need to stand for long periods of time may relieve leg soreness associated with varicose veins.

How can I tell whether I am experiencing morning sickness or something more serious?

If you vomit more than three or four times a day, are hardly able to keep any food down, lose weight, feel very tired and dizzy, and urinate less than usual, you may have something more serious than run-of-the-mill morning sickness-specifically, you may be suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). Additional symptoms include increased heart rate, headaches, and pale, dry-looking skin. It is important to diagnose and treat HG as soon as possible, so contact your doctor if you feel any of these symptoms or feel that your morning sickness is more serious.

How do I know if I'm doing Kegel exercises right?

If you are doing Kegels correctly, you will not be tightening other muscles like your buttocks or thighs. You will be isolating this internal muscle and not straining other ones in the process.

Will the bottle of champagne I shared with my husband on the night we conceived our baby be harmful?

Put this night of celebration behind you and stop feeling guilty. Binge drinking or regular abuse of alcohol when you are pregnant can cause birth defects, but an isolated episode of too much champagne probably has not harmed your unborn baby.

Heavy drinking, including binges or daily use, is especially associated with congenital defects. Babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) show retarded growth, have central nervous system problems, and characteristic facial features, including a small head, a thin upper lip, a short upturned nose, a flattened nasal bridge and a general underdeveloped look of the face. Because of the critical nervous system involvement, many show tremulousness, can't suck, are hyperactive, have abnormal muscle tone, and are later diagnosed with attention deficit disorder as well as mental retardation.

Relying on alcohol out of habit or cravings can also end your pregnancy abruptly. Heavy to moderate drinkers seem to experience a higher incidence of miscarriage in the second trimester, as well as problems with the placenta. Other complications linked to alcohol use are congenital heart defects, brain abnormalities, spinal and limb defects, and urinary and genital problems.

Can sugar substitutes cause problems during pregnancy?

The Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that aspartame and saccharin are safe, but unless you have diabetes and need to control your sugar intake, there is no good reason to consume artificial sweeteners. To be safe, limit diet drinks to one a day. However, if you are pregnant and are disgnosed with hyperphenylalanine (high levels of the amino acid phenylalanine—a component of aspartame—in your bloodstream), you should stop using the product immediately, as excessive levels of this amino acid can cause brain damage. People with the genetic disease phenylketonuria (PKU) or advanced liver disease should also avoid aspartame.

My doctor recommends lots of iron, but it makes me feel nauseated. What should I do?

Take iron-rich prenatal vitamin supplements between meals with plenty of water or along with a fruit juice rich in vitamin C, which enhances the absorption of iron. Avoid drinking milk, coffee, or tea with your iron supplements because these beverages inhibit iron absorption. Add liver, red meat, fish, poultry, enriched breads and cereals, green leafy vegetables, eggs, and dried fruits to your diet to increase dietary iron.

What kings of food cravings are normal?

Many pregnant women crave sweet or salty foods. Cravings for non-food items such as dirt, soap, ash, or coffee grounds are different. A phenomenon called pica, which has shown up in medical literature since the sixth century, results in strange cravings that can cause serious problems for a pregnant mother and her un-born baby.

If you have a craving to eat clay, ashes, laundry starch, or other unusual substances, seek medical attention right away.

Will eating too much sugar during pregnancy lead to gestational diabetes?

No, eating too much sugar does not directly cause any type of diabetes. Diabetes is a disorder in which the body cannot properly utilize insulin or does not produce insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. Gestational diabetes is the result of changing hormones within a woman's body.

Is it OK to take a calcium supplement if I don't eat dairy foods?

If you can't get enough calcium from the foods you choose, a supplement can be a good idea. The rule of thumb should always be food before supplements, though. First, include calcium-containing foods in your diet as much as possible, and then supplement on top of that. Never let a supplement take the place of an entire food group or nutrient such as calcium.

Is it unhealthy to have an aversion to vegetables during my first trimester?

It is common for women to have food aversions even to healthy foods such as vegetables. Try drinking vegetable juice instead of eating whole vegetables. You can also eat more fruit, since many of them contain some of the same nutrients as vegetables. Keep taking your prenatal vitamins to ensure you are getting all of the nutrients that your body needs at this time. However, it's always best to get your nutrients from food before supplements. If you have a temporary aversion to a healthy food, make substitutions. If you're not sure what to substitute, be sure to speak to a dietitian.

Can my car's seatbelt harm my unborn baby?

Definitely continue to buckle up throughout your pregnancy. The lap belt should fit snugly under your belly bulge, and the shoulder belt should be positioned between your breasts. Don't worry about your belt putting pressure on your baby. The baby is well protected by amniotic fluid and layers of tissue, muscle, and fat. It's much more dangerous to you and your child to go beltless and risk being injured in an accident.

Will coloring my hair hurt my baby?

To date, there is no conclusive evidence that hair color use in pregnancy is dangerous. If you are concerned over a possible risk, you may opt for a vegetable-based or temporary color treatment until your baby is born. Some experts also recommend holding off on all chemical hair treatments during the first trimester.

What are my chances of having twins?

Your chances of "twinning" are actually not bad-about 1 in 90 births result in twins. If fraternal twins run in your family, your odds are slightly higher. The number of twins and multiple births has skyrocketed over the past several decades, and the incidence of higher order multiples-which include triplets, quadruplets, or more-grew a whopping 404 percent between 1980 and 1997, but has experienced a slow but steady decline since 1999. Twins are more common then ever, however, with 119,648 twin births occurring in 2000.

The Centers for Disease Control attributes approximately two-thirds of all U.S. higher order multiples to the use of fertility treatments, also known as assisted reproductive technology (ART). Over 37 percent of all successful pregnancies from ART result in a multiple fraternal birth.

National statistics also reveal that more women are waiting until their thirties and forties to have children, and the increasing twin rate may reflect that reality. Women over 35, especially those who have had a previous multiple birth, have an increased chance of having multiples.

You will have fraternal twins if two separate eggs are fertilized by two separate sperm. Three times more common than identical twins, and based on heredity, these fraternal fetuses have their own placentas, may even be different sexes, and may not look more like each other than ordinary brothers and sisters in the same family.

When a single fertilized egg separates into two distinct halves, identical twins are the result. These unborn babies share the same placenta, are always the same sex, and will have the same genetic makeup and similar physical characteristics.

Carrying two or more babies will put a lot more stress on your body, and your doctor is going to monitor you much more closely than if you were expecting one baby. Early detection of the babies using ultrasounds and by taking blood tests to measure your hormone levels will help keep you on track.

What is umbilical cord banking?

The umbilical cord blood contains stem cells, those blank slate cells from which all organs and tissues are built. Cord blood collected immediately after birth is placed in a collection kit and flown to a facility where it is cryogenically frozen and "banked" for later use if needed. The theory behind cord banking is that if your child ever develops a disease or condition requiring stem-cell treatment, the cord blood can be thawed and used for her treatment. If it matches certain biological markers, cord blood can be used to treat other family members as well. However, banking is cost- prohibitive for many and requires an annual storage fee for as long as you would like the cord blood frozen.

From Everything Pregnancy Organizer Copyright © 2007, F+W Publications, Inc. Used by permission of Adams Media, an F+W Publications Company. All rights reserved.

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