Your baby depends on you completely for its needs. To make sure he or she gets the best possible start in life, eat right, get enough rest and stay as healthy as possible throughout your pregnancy.
Some infections and illnesses you have can affect your baby's development. That's why it is so important to remind your doctor you are pregnant when you call him or her with a medical problem.
A fever, particularly a high fever, may hurt your baby. Your baby relies on you for its temperature control. A prolonged high fever, especially in the first trimester (first 13 weeks), can affect a developing fetus.
To bring down a high fever, drink lots of liquids, take acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and dress appropriately to help you cool down. If your physician prescribes medication for a cold, bladder infection or other illness, take it as prescribed.
Group-B Streptococcus Infection
Group-B streptococcus (GBS) rarely causes problems in adults but can cause life-threatening infections in newborns. You get an infection when your immunity or resistance is down.
You can "carry" the bacteria in your vagina (soon to be "birth canal") and not feel sick. There may not be symptoms. Sometimes a woman will have a vaginal discharge. GBS is treated with antibiotics. At this time, there is no ideal screening test for GBS; however, your doctor may recommend taking a swab of your vagina or rectum at around 28 or 36 weeks of pregnancy. This is cultured to test for the presence of GBS. The test identifies 90% of all women who will carry the bacteria at the time of birth. Although faster tests are available that can be used during labor to detect GBS, they are not as accurate.
The risk of passing GBS to your baby increases with premature labor, premature rupture of membranes or a previous GBS infection.
Fifth disease, also called parvo virus B19, is a mild, moderately contagious airborne infection that spreads easily through groups, such as classrooms or day-care centers. (It is not the same infection that affects dogs.) A rash develops that looks like skin reddening caused by a slap. Reddening fades and recurs, and lasts from 2 to 34 days. There is no treatment, but it is important to distinguish it from rubella, especially if you are pregnant.
Fifth disease is something to know about. This virus is important during pregnancy because it interferes with the production of red blood cells. If you are exposed to fifth disease, contact your doctor. A blood test can determine whether you have had the virus before. If you have not, your doctor can monitor you to detect fetal problems. Some fetal problems can be dealt with before the baby is born.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a vaginal infection that affects pregnant and nonpregnant women. Some researchers estimate that up to 20% of all pregnant women have BV. It can cause problems for a pregnant woman by increasing her risk of having a low-birthweight baby or of going into premature labor. It occurs when undesirable bacteria multiply due to suppression or killing of good bacteria. Most women are not routinely screened for BV.
It is possible to have BV without symptoms, but symptoms you may notice include:
|mild vaginal irritation|
|a fishy odor|
|increased creamy discharge from the vagina|
Your doctor can do a vaginal swab if BV is suspected. Creams and oral antibiotics are used to treat BV. Treatment may increase a woman's chances of carrying her baby to full term.
Lyme disease is an infection carried and transmitted to humans by ticks. Lyme disease crosses the placenta. Treatment includes long-term antibiotic therapy. Many medications used to treat Lyme disease are safe to use during pregnancy. Lyme disease has several stages. In most people, a skin lesion with a distinctive look, called a bull's eye, appears at the site of the bite. Flulike symptoms appear, and after 4 to 6 weeks there may be signs of heart or neurologic problems. Arthritis may become a problem later. To help avoid exposure to Lyme disease, stay out of areas known to have ticks, such as heavily wooded areas. If you can't avoid those areas, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks and boots or closed shoes. Immediately on entering your house, check your hair for ticks; they often attach themselves to the hair or the scalp. Researchers are working on a vaccine to prevent Lyme disease. It may be available in the near future.
Toxic streptococcus A, the "flesh-eating bacteria," is a bacterial infection that usually starts in a skin cut, not as a sore throat. The skin turns red and becomes swollen, painful and infected. Strep A spreads quickly and can soon involve the entire body.
Symptoms of streptococcus A are:
|an inflamed cut or scratch|
|unusually cold extremities (feet, hands, legs and arms)|
You can take steps to prevent toxic strep-A infection. Any time you get a scratch, clean the affected area with soap and water, alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. All are safe to use during pregnancy. After careful washing, apply triple antibiotic cream or ointment (available over the counter) to the area. Use a light bandage, if necessary. Keep the area clean, and cleanse and reapply antibiotic ointment as needed. IMPORTANT: Use these measures with every member of your family.
If You Have a Cat
At one of your prenatal appointments, your doctor may ask you if you own a cat. If a cat lives at your house, you may be exposed to toxoplasma gondii, a protozoa that causes toxoplasmosis. The disease is spread by contact with infected cat feces or by eating raw, infected meat. You can pick up protozoa from an infected cat's litter box, from counters and other surfaces the cat walks on or from the cat itself when you pet it.
A toxoplasmosis infection during pregnancy can cause miscarriage or an infected infant at birth. Usually an infection in the mother has no symptoms. To protect yourself, avoid exposure to cat feces as a precaution. Get someone else to change the kitty litter. Keep cats off counters and other areas where you could pick up the protozoa. Wash your hands thoroughly after touching your cat or after handling raw meat. Keep counters clean, and cook meat thoroughly. Hygienic measures prevent transmission of the protozoa. If possible, have your cat cared for by a friend during your pregnancy.
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a member of the herpes-virus family. It is transmitted in humans by contact with saliva or urine. Day-care centers are a common source of the infection. CMV can also be passed by sexual contact. Most CMV infections do not cause symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they include a fever, sore throat and joint pain. This virus can cause problems in an infant, including low birth-weight, eye problems, jaundice and anemia.
Rubella, also called German measles, is a viral infection that causes few problems in the nonpregnant woman. It is more serious during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. The most common symptom of rubella is a skin rash. You may also experience flulike symptoms.
Rubella infection during pregnancy can increase the rate of miscarriage and cause malformations in the baby, especially deafness and heart defects.
Rubella vaccine has been in use for a long time. One of the initial blood tests you will receive is to check for antibodies to rubella. Problems with rubella occur infrequently.
If you have had chickenpox in the past, it shouldn't be a problem now. If you haven't had chickenpox, exposure during the first trimester can result in birth defects, including heart problems. Exposure close to delivery (within 1 week) can result in chickenpox in the baby.
Adults don't tolerate chickenpox as well as children. They may have serious symptoms, including painful lesions, high fever and severe flulike symptoms.
If you are not sure if you have been exposed to chickenpox in the past, avoid exposure to the disease if you can.
Varicella (sometimes called varicella-zoster) is another in the herpes-virus family and is in the same family as chickenpox. Varicella may remain latent for years, only to be reactivated as shingles.
Pain is the main symptom of shingles, which may be accompanied by a rash or lesions. If you get shingles while you're pregnant, it can cause severe pain and even breathing problems. Fortunately, it is rare.
Shingles may cause birth defects if you are exposed early in pregnancy. If you are exposed within 2 weeks of delivery, the baby may catch the disease.
Possible Prenatal Effects of Mother's Illness
|Illness in Mother||Possible Effect on Fetus|
|Cytomegalovirus||Microcephaly, brain damage, hearing loss|
|Group-B streptococcus||Pneumonia, meningitis, cerebral palsy, damage to lungs or kidneys|
|Hepatitis||Liver damage, death|
|Lupus||Miscarriage, premature delivery|
|Lyme disease||Preterm labor, fetal death, rash in newborn|
|Rubella (German measles)||Cataracts, deafness, heart lesions; can involve all organs|
|Syphilis||Skin defects, fetal death|
|Toxoplasmosis||Possible effects on all organs|
|Varicella||Possible effects on all organs|