Pregnancy is full of hopefulness and the expectancy of your bundle of joy. This is a crucial time in your health particularly if you are an African-American woman. African-American women sometimes face additional health challenges during pregnancy ranging from increased infant mortality rates to higher rates of pregestational diabetes. When that maternal instinct kicks in, it's time that you take extra special care of yourself.
Health During Pregnancy
African American mothers were 2.5 times more likely than non-Hispanic white mothers to begin prenatal care in the 3rd trimester, or not receive prenatal care at all. The Office of Minority Health offers these tips for a healthy pregnancy (PDF).
When you're pregnant, it's more important than ever to stay healthy. Your baby is relying on you for its health and wellness. Be mom of the year before giving birth by:
- Providing good prenatal care
- Eating healthfully
- Exercising during pregnancy
Giving good prenatal care
Taking care of your baby's health during pregnancy is just as important as taking care of your child after she's born. Schedule regular prenatal checkups throughout your pregnancy.
Follow your doctor's guidance on diet, exercise and wellness. General guidelines include:
- Take your prenatal vitamins every day. They can help prevent birth defects and nourish your baby.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Talk to your doctor about how much weight you should gain during your pregnancy.
- Don't use drugs, drink alcohol or smoke. It's best for your baby.
- Be careful with medicine. Consult your doctor about prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.
- Get plenty of rest and sleep. If you feel tired, get some rest. Don't push yourself to maintain your usual pace.
Eating healthfully for your baby
When you're pregnant, what you eat affects you and your baby. You provide the vitamins and minerals that help your baby grow and develop. Get off to a good start by taking in the right nutrients.
Folic acid helps prevent birth defects. Get it from:
- Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
- Orange juice
- Fortified foods, including cereals and breads
- Black beans
- Black-eyed peas
Consult your doctor to determine if you need any additional nutrients during your pregnancy.
Exercising during pregnancy
As long as you're medically able, exercising while pregnant can be good for you and your baby. It helps prevent excessive weight gain. And it may keep your baby's size within the normal range. Other benefits include:
- Reduced backaches, swelling, bloating and constipation
- Improved sleep, increased energy and improved mood
- Shorter labor and post-delivery recovery times
Ask your doctor to help you develop an exercise plan including activities, durations and recommendations about when to start (and stop) exercising. Your doctor may recommend:
- Riding a stationary bike
- Participating in low-impact or aqua aerobics
When to call your doctor
See your doctor for regular checkups. Seek immediate medical care if:
- Your baby is moving less than usual
- You're bleeding or fluid is leaking from your vagina
- You have strong cramps, a lasting backache or bellyache
- You have contractions that continue for 30 minutes after you exercise
- You experience dizziness, chest pain or severe headaches following exercise
Gestational diabetes is when blood sugar levels are too high during pregnancy. African-American women have higher rates than non-Hispanic white women.1 Gestational diabetes usually goes away after pregnancy. But having gestational diabetes puts you are at higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes later in life.
Infant mortality is the rate at which babies less than one year of age die. African Americans have 2.4 times the infant mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites.2 They are four times as likely to die as infants due to complications related to low birth weight as compared to non-Hispanic white infants.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden and unexplainable death of infants. It's the leading cause of death for children aged 1-12 months. African Americans had 1.9 times the sudden infant death syndrome mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites, in 2006.
Although the exact cause of SIDS is unknown, you can take steps to protect your baby. Experts believe these precautions may help reduce the risk of SIDS:
- Put your baby to sleep on his or her back
- Don't smoke during or after pregnancy
- Offer a pacifier at naptime or bedtime
- Choose a firm mattress for your baby's crib
- Keep soft toys and loose bedding out of your baby's crib
- Dress your baby in light pajamas and keep the room temperature comfortable to avoid overheating
- Screenings and immunizations
Get help staying healthy during pregnancy
From pregnancy through delivery, get personalized help with the Healthy Pregnancy Program. Enrolling in our free program is one way to help ensure a smooth pregnancy and delivery. Benefits include:
- Personalized support through each stage of your pregnancy
- Education materials and resources about nutrition, exercise and childbirth preparation
- 24-hour maternity nurse line
- Free gifts and savings for you and your baby
Get more information at healthy-pregnancy.com. Call 1-800-411-7984 to enroll in the Healthy Pregnancy Program.
Scheduled Ceasarean deliveries
Watch a video about scheduled Ceasarean deliveries and advice on talking to your doctor. Most women have a normal labor and delivery. Sometimes, however, giving birth requires some help. If your health, or your baby's health, is in danger, your doctor may induce labor or perform a Caesarean section (C-section). It's important to know that research has shown that babies born before 39 weeks gestational age without a medical reason for early delivery are at increased risk for complications. Common complications include breathing problems, infections, low blood sugar, and the need for the neonatal intensive care unit. If you are scheduled to deliver before 39 weeks gestational age, be sure to talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits to both you and your baby.
The March of Dimes also has information on why the last weeks of pregnancy count.