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Military doctor shares tips for a healthy pregnancy

Navy Lt. Jessica Miller, a certified nurse midwife in Naval Hospital Jacksonville’s pregnancy Integrated Practice Unit, assesses a patient. (U.S. Navy photo by Jacob Sippel) Navy Lt. Jessica Miller, a certified nurse midwife in Naval Hospital Jacksonville’s pregnancy Integrated Practice Unit, assesses a patient. (U.S. Navy photo by Jacob Sippel)

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Pregnancy can evoke a range of emotions. Some women find the changes to their bodies and moods surprising, or even shocking. No two women or pregnancies are alike. Military Health System experts are encouraging prospective mothers to take the steps necessary to ensure a healthy pregnancy in preparation for the arrival of a new baby.

Dr. Lindsey Borgia, an Army captain and obstetrician-gynecologist at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, says a healthy pregnancy can be maintained through daily exercise and a balanced diet. Alcohol, recreational drugs, and tobacco must be avoided.

“As a rule, a fit and active non-smoking woman will have less difficulty conceiving and fewer problems in pregnancy,” said Borgia. Smoking during pregnancy is the most preventable cause of illness and death among mothers and infants.

During the first trimester, many women experience changes to their bodies, including fatigue, nausea, and weight gain. Pregnant women can find that they are sensitive to certain foods or smells that previously were not bothersome. Although some women expect to gain a lot of weight as their bellies round out, others with morning sickness during the first trimester may only gain a few pounds.

Theresa Hart, a nurse consultant and program manager for perinatal pediatrics and special medical programs at the Defense Health Agency, said the bodily changes women experience during pregnancy can lead to health issues.

“Gestational diabetes can be diagnosed when the mother’s blood sugar levels get too high during pregnancy,” said Hart, adding that between five and six percent of pregnant women are diagnosed with this condition in the United States every year.

Development of high blood pressure and pregnancy-related diabetes are two of the most common conditions that may arise, said Borgia. Regular prenatal care is important to monitor for the development of these conditions. In addition, there are many pre-existing conditions that should be followed closely in pregnancy.

“Women should bring up their concerns as well as their expectations for prenatal care and delivery [at these appointments],” said Borgia, who added that health care providers will be prepared to give detailed and honest answers about what to expect.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all women of childbearing age are encouraged to supplement a healthy diet with a multivitamin containing folic acid to help prevent serious birth defects. Once pregnant, women should be aware of foods or ingredients to avoid. These include deli meats and cold cuts, soft cheeses, raw fish and meat, and unwashed produce, said Borgia. Deli meats and unpasteurized dairy products can contain a type of bacteria called Listeria, which is associated with stillbirth.

Pregnant women should avoid uncooked or undercooked fish, eggs, meat, and unwashed fruits and vegetables because they can contain salmonella or E.coli. Foodborne illnesses from bacteria, such as Listeria and salmonella, can cause flu-like symptoms in expectant mothers. These symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach pains.

Lastly, being mindful of seafood intake is important as certain types of fish – such as shark, swordfish, and tilefish – can contain high levels of mercury. If an expectant mother eats fish high in mercury frequently, the substance can build up in her bloodstream over time. Too much mercury can damage the development of a baby’s central nervous system.

Women and their partners are encouraged to enroll in local TRICARE programs, participate in childbirth or parenting classes, and talk to other parents. Classes and other support programs can often be found through the installation, military and family support center, or a local hospital.

“Take advantage of these classes as they are educational and will give you additional opportunities to get to know your health care team,” said Borgia.

For additional information on services, tips, and advice for parenting, visit Military OneSource. Additional information on programs and coverage can be found at the TRICARE website.

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