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Preparing for pregnancy

Trying to get pregnant? Or would you like to get pregnant in the future?

We are here to provide some information on what to expect for your health while you are pregnant. Fortunately, Florence is home to many local resources providing support throughout your pregnancy.

Pregnancy planning

When you are ready to have a child, there are some important things to consider. If you are pregnant, or trying to become pregnant, the first thing you can do is set up an appointment with an OB/GYN or primary health care provider. They will talk to you about how to have the healthiest pregnancy for you and your baby.

At your first appointment, your provider will discuss the importance of diet, exercise and prenatal vitamins. There is a greater risk of developing complications, such as gestational diabetes or high blood pressure, if you are overweight or obese during your pregnancy. These can be dangerous and lead to premature birth. Getting your body to a healthy weight and establishing a healthy diet and exercise routine before pregnancy can lead to a healthier pregnancy with better outcomes for you and your baby.

Once you decide you are ready to become pregnant, it is important to:

Stop smoking, drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs. These can be harmful to you and your baby.

Check with your provider to get up to date on recommended vaccinations, including the following that can be given while you are pregnant and are safe for you and your baby:

o Chickenpox.

o Measles, mumps, rubella.

o Influenza (flu).

o Tetanus and pertussis.

o COVID-19.

Prenatal vitamins and folic acid

Half of all pregnancies are unplanned and prenatal vitamins are important for any woman of childbearing age. Folic acid is one of the important prenatal vitamins and should be taken before and during your pregnancy. Folic acid protects the baby from developing spinal column birth defects.

As birth defects most often occur before a woman even knows she is pregnant, it is recommended all women of childbearing age take at least 400 mg of folic acid every day. The best way of getting enough folic acid is to take a prenatal vitamin. However, you can also include folic acid in your diet from foods like okra, kale, spinach, chicken liver, beef liver, orange juice, asparagus, broccoli, avocado, green peas, cauliflower, tomato juice, peanuts and cantaloupe.

Prenatal vitamins are available at low cost from local pharmacies, or your provider can give you a prescription. Some pharmacies offer vitamin programs that might provide the vitamins for free, and phone apps such as GoodRx might help lower costs if a free program is not available.

During pregnancy

Pregnancy is divided into trimesters. As you progress through your pregnancy and your baby grows, different tests or recommendations may be needed. Discuss with your provider how often to meet to monitor your pregnancy and be prepared for routine testing, such as bloodwork and urine tests.

At each visit, make sure your provider is aware of all medications, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins and nutritional supplements – some may not be safe to use during pregnancy.

Your provider will regularly check your blood pressure – high blood pressure can reduce blood flow to the baby, so if you consistently have high blood pressure, your provider will be sure to advise you on how to best manage it.

You may be advised to measure your blood sugars, which will test you for gestational diabetes. High blood sugar can cause your baby to gain too much weight. The baby could also have trouble breathing or require a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit once born.

Continue to take prenatal vitamins every day.

Staying healthy

Even during pregnancy, you should aim for about 150 minutes of exercise throughout the week. The time can be divided across days, and the exercise could be as simple as a walk. If you have questions about a particular activity, ask your provider.

Keep in mind that “eating for two” doesn’t mean doubling your calories. You only need to add 200-300 calories a day to help your baby grow. Gaining too much weight can lead to complications for you and your baby.

It is also important to know what you need to avoid or how to cook in your diet while you are pregnant. Recommendations include:

Cook all meats well.

Do not eat any meat raw.

Avoid cold deli meats .

Avoid soft cheeses unless they have been pasteurized. When in doubt, just don’t eat it.

Avoid fish with high mercury content, including the ones you may catch yourself. This includes fish such as king mackerel, marlin, shark, orange roughy, swordfish and ling.

Avoid undercooked or raw fish and shellfish like mussels, oysters, sushi or clams.

Caffeine consumption should also be limited to about one 12 oz. cup of coffee a day. Don’t forget that caffeine can also be found in chocolate and soft drinks.

Keeping these things in mind while working with your health care team will help you and baby have a healthy pregnancy!

Alyssa Lee and Lindsay Henry are University of South Carolina Florence Campus medical students, Class of 2022. This column is a collaboration with the Pee Dee Interprofessional Coalition, Francis Marion University, HopeHealth, Medical University of South Carolina, McLeod Health and the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.



HopeHealth educates its patients on the importance of having a health care home. As a primary care facility, HopeHealth’s medical team works to prevent and detect illness and the early onset of disease, provide routine physical examinations and promote overall healthy lifestyles.

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HopeHealth 360 North Irby St. Florence, SC 29501 (843) 667-9414
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