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Health Today: Healthy pregnancy

by Jonathan W. Weeks, associate professor, obstetrics and gynecology last modified Feb 16, 2011 10:32 AM

(Editor's Note: Health Today is a regular column from health care professionals at UofL that features information ranging from health issues to UofL faculty/staff benefits.)

The anticipated birth of a child can be both exciting and scary at the same time.

Despite all of the attention paid in the press to healthy mothers and healthy children, it is still the case that many pregnant women do not know about the behaviors prior to conception that directly impact the outcome of the pregnancy. A preconception consultation can help women identify risk reduction opportunities, reduce the chance of pregnancy complications and improve the health of their babies. Physicians and other health care professionals with UofL Health Care have the expertise to help expectant moms with all their medical needs during this wondrous time.

For example, most patients do not know that the toxins and carcinogens from cigarette smoke persist in the maternal circulation for three months after a woman smokes her last cigarette. These substances can remain in the maternal circulation for the entire pregnancy if a woman has continued exposure to secondhand smoke. Our obstetrical providers make recommendations and referrals to assist with smoking cessation before conception.

Another way to improve pregnancy outcomes is to update vaccinations. Some common illnesses have a much more devastating effect on women who are pregnant. Pregnant women infected with chickenpox or influenza are more likely to have respiratory failure and death. These complications can be averted by immunizing women against chickenpox prior to conception and by providing flu vaccination during pregnancy.

Infant deaths due to pertussis infection (whooping cough) are on the rise in Kentucky and Indiana. Vaccination during pregnancy will result in the passage of protective antibodies to the unborn baby, while immunization of close family members will markedly reduce the chance of infant infection.

UofL Health Care can provide many other opportunities for women to improve their chance of having an uncomplicated pregnancy.

About 30 percent of adults are low or deficient in vitamin D levels. Proper supplementation could improve fertility, reduce miscarriage risk and improve fetal bone development. Some commonly prescribed medications are associated with increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Identification and correction can improve maternal and fetal blood counts during pregnancy. And, obesity is associated with an increase in inflammatory activity that can lead to preterm birth.

In addition to board-certified obstetricians and gynecologists, UofL Health Care staff includes nutritionists who are available to assist women with dietary recommendations before and after pregnancy and lactation consultants who are available to educate and support women who want to breastfeed.

Some women, because of pre-existing conditions or because of issues that develop during a pregnancy, have pregnancies described as "high-risk" pregnancies. Our medical and nursing staff have many years of experience in managing a wide variety of problems such as diabetes, chronic hypertension, premature birth, fetal anomalies and advanced maternal age.

Each of our Maternal-Fetal Medicine faculty has more than 20 years of perinatal medicine experience. The knowledge and experience of our physician and nursing staff - along with a full complement of anesthesia, medical and surgical experts - makes us uniquely qualified to care for the highest-risk pregnancies, in addition to healthy patients who are expecting a relatively uneventful pregnancy.

The UofL Health Care Centers for Primary Care serve is a gateway to meeting all of your health care needs. You can reach us at the UofL Health Care Outpatient Center at 401 East Chestnut Street 813-6800 and Cardinal Station at the corner of Third Street and Central Avenue at 852-5205.

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