A pregnant woman sitting and eating a bowl of fruit.

September 22, 2020

Advice From an Obstetrician for a Healthy Start During COVID-19

A healthy pregnancy starts before conception. Smart choices with nutrition, exercise and daily habits are the building blocks your baby needs to have the best start possible.

Being pregnant during the global pandemic brings unique challenges, but the basics of good health remain the same. According to Jaswinder Rekhi, DO, an obstetrician affiliated with Memorial Hermann, starting with a healthy body is important for pregnancy, no matter when you conceive.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that pregnant women may be at an increased risk of complications from COVID-19, but Dr. Rekhi says there is no need to delay conception. “Even though pregnant women are in a higher-risk group, pregnancy is manageable during this pandemic,” she says.

Is your body ready for pregnancy?

Start with understanding your health status and resolve any medical conditions that could affect your pregnancy.

Stay up-to-date with preventive care. “Have a routine well-woman exam within a year of conception, so we can identify any concerns,” says Dr. Rekhi. She also recommends making sure your vaccinations are current, including an annual flu shot.

Target a healthy BMI. It is important to be at a healthy weight before conception. Obesity increases the risk of complications like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, miscarriage or stillbirth. If you are morbidly obese (BMI greater than 40), Dr. Rekhi says, “plan to take a year or two to get your weight in the normal range before becoming pregnant.”

Discontinue alcoholic beverages and smoking. No amount of alcohol or tobacco is safe during pregnancy. “Don’t get pregnant if you have trouble with alcohol, because fetal alcohol syndrome causes serious physical and intellectual problems,” says Dr. Rekhi. Tobacco may lead to reduced fetal growth and placental abruption. If you need help to stop drinking or smoking, your doctor can recommend resources to assist you.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Health and wellness basics are important to the growth and development of your baby.

Nutritious foods. “Fresh foods that come from the earth, not from packages, are best,” says Dr. Rekhi. “You want to have a strong body, and that comes from a balance of lean protein, fruits and vegetables.” She recommends avoiding undercooked meat or fish, as well as cold cuts, because of the risk of foodborne illness.

Regular exercise. Aim to get some type of exercise for 30 minutes each day, at least five days each week. If you are not already active, don’t start a new fitness routine during pregnancy. “Begin with some brisk daily walking,” Dr. Rekhi advises.

Vitamins. Over-the-counter prenatal vitamins provide iron, vitamin B, folic acid and DHA, which are beneficial to the developing fetus. Remember to speak with your health care provider before taking vitamins or supplements.

Navigating pregnancy during the pandemic

Much is still unknown about how the virus affects and transmits to infants, but the best defense for your baby is to avoid getting the virus, yourself. “Treat yourself like a high-risk individual,” says Dr. Rekhi.

Pregnant women should be extra cautious and commit to wearing a mask, frequent handwashing, and avoiding interaction with people outside the household.

If you live with someone who has COVID-19: An infected person should self-isolate within the home. Make an effort to stay away from the person who has COVID-19 and get tested to be sure you are not infected.

If you think you may have COVID-19: “Get tested if you develop any symptoms, like fever, cough or shortness of breath,” Dr. Rekhi says. “It’s important to know, so you can be prepared.”

If you test positive for COVID-19: Mothers who have COVID-19 may need to separate from their newborn after delivery. If you are facing this challenging situation, speak with your doctor about plans to safely deliver and feed your baby while you are infected.

If you plan to become pregnant, living a healthy lifestyle helps give your baby a strong start. With a combination of good wellness habits, and precautions against COVID-19, you will be ready to welcome your newborn.

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