What every woman must know about pregnancy

When your biological clock starts ticking, there's very little you can do to ignore the baby call. But before you or your loved one enters this roller coaster ride toward new realities, it is a must to be aware of what awaits you.

Today, Dr. Vandana Chaddha, Consultant at Centre for Fetal and Genetic Medicine in Moolchand Women's Hospital, explains facts about tests, health and other important concerns regarding pregnancy in this post on what every woman must know about pregnancy. Let's begin!

Your health, and your partner's health, affects your chances of becoming pregnant and giving birth to a healthy baby. It is important that you and your partner are as healthy as possible when trying for a baby. If you are fit and healthy, you can improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy and labour.

When planning your baby, it is advisable to consult an obstetrician to know whether you are ready for a healthy pregnancy or not. Your obstetrician will advise you on different health issues that will help you manage your pregnancy well. Certain preliminary tests may be required to ensure that you and your baby are safe from potential risks.

The important tests for pregnancy:
Often many mothers-to-be are curious about the purpose of different tests. Outlined below is the rationale for key tests undertaken during pregnancy:

Blood group:
This test detects whether your blood group is Rh (Rhesus factor) positive or negative. In case you are Rh negative, you may need to take an anti-D (an antibody) injection to ensure a safe pregnancy.

Blood sugar:
This test detects your blood sugar level so that if you are a diabetic, your pregnancy can be managed accordingly. Chances of developing gestational diabetes can be evaluated and pre-emptive measures can be taken.

Haemoglobin and Thallasemia:
This test detects anaemia. The tendency to acquire anaemia if you are not previously anaemic increases during pregnancy and this could have ill effects on the pregnancy. You may be prescribed iron tablets or a special iron-rich diet to prevent anaemia. (Thallasemia is an inherited form of anaemia, wherein there is a defect in the synthesis of haemoglobin. Please ensure that you and your partner have been tested for thallasemia carrier status before you conceive.)

The important tests for pregnancy:

Hepatitis B:
This test detects the virus that causes liver damage. If you happen to be a carrier, the virus can pass into your baby's body during pregnancy or childbirth. While planning a pregnancy, it is safer to get vaccinated against Hepatitis B and not plan a pregnancy for the next two months.

HIV virus causes AIDS. If you are HIV positive then certain antiviral drugs will be prescribed to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to your baby.

Rubella (German measles) is a mild disease for mother and can have very harmful consequences for unborn baby. Rubella vaccine is recommended pre-pregnancy if you are non immune to rubella. Ensure contraception for a month after the vaccine. It can seriously affect your baby's vision and hearing abilities. If you are infected with it in the first four months of pregnancy, it can cause brain and heart problems to your baby. If your blood shows that you have recently been infected with rubella, you may be counseled a termination of pregnancy.

This test is conducted to check whether your thyroid gland is functioning normally. Adequate intake of iodine ensures normal functioning of the thyroid gland that is vital for the growth and mental development of your baby.

Venereal Disease
Research Laboratory (VDRL) test: This test is conducted to detect sexually transmitted diseases. Prospective parents (you and your partner) need to go through this test. Even if one of you is detected positive both should take a course of antibiotics to minimize the risk of infecting your baby.

Urine tests:
In addition to the blood tests, you should undergo certain urine tests to detect sugar/albumin or infection levels.

The certain key ultrasound tests like nuchal scan and double marker test for Downs syndrome screening and Anomaly scan for fetal structural malformations detection at 20 weeks should be done.

What to expect during pregnancy - Pregnancy symptoms
Pregnancy symptoms differ from woman to woman and pregnancy to pregnancy. Understanding the signs and symptoms of pregnancy is important because each symptom may be related to something other than pregnancy. Some women experience signs or symptoms of pregnancy within a week of conception. For others, pregnancy symptoms may develop over a few weeks or may not be present at all.

Often your body will signal pregnancy, even before confirmatory tests can detect pregnancy. However, it is important you make an appointment with your obstetrician to confirm the cause of the symptoms you experience.

The most common signs of pregnancy are:
- A missed period
- Morning sickness/nausea/vomiting
- Tender/swollen breasts
- Fatigue/tiredness
- Changes in appetite
- Frequent urination
- Constipation
- Odour sensitivity
- Mood swings
- Cramps

Confirming your pregnancy
Early detection of pregnancy is based on hormonal changes in your body. It can be determined particularly through urine tests and blood tests:

Urine test:
This detects the presence of HCG. You can do this test at home, in hospital; you're your doctor's clinic, at family planning clinics or at the chemists. It is highly reliable and is able to detect pregnancy about 12-15 days after conception.

Blood test:
Pregnancy tests based on blood samples are more sensitive than urine tests. They can detect pregnancy as early as one week after conception.

Ultrasounds are recommended to confirm pregnancy and to estimate the duration of pregnancy.

Folic Acid:
The Crucial Ingredient for a Healthy Pregnancy

One of the most important things you can do to help prevent serious birth defects in your baby, is to get enough folic acid every day-especially before conception and during early pregnancy. It is recommended that all women who are planning a pregnancy consume about 5 mg of folic acid every day. Adequate folic acid intake is very important 1 month before conception and at least 3 months after to potentially reduce the risk and complications for your baby.

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