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Getting Ready for Bebe
Every time my mother peels an apple, a tomato or a peach, she buries the peels in her garden. Well-nourished soil, she says, yields healthy plants. And she must be right because there's always disputes among our neighbors and family to see who gets the leftover calabacitas or zucchini my mom doesn't need. She's certainly got the best garden in the neighborhood.
The equivalent of this secret for a woman who wants to become pregnant is folate or folic acid, a balanced diet and prenatal visits. If you're thinking about having a baby, one of the best things you can do is prepare your body for pregnancy. And if you're already pregnant, it's never too late to start giving your baby the best possible care. The information in this chapter will help you achieve a healthy pregnancy for both you and your baby.
Taking care of yourself before conceiving is very important because some of the most critical moments of a baby's development take place during the first weeks of gestation, when you probably don't even know you're pregnant. In fact, this advice applies to all women of childbearing age, since half the pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.
What you eat and do is as important as what you don't eat and don't do. The beginning of the pregnancy is when the baby is most vulnerable to what you send to him or her through your blood. At this time the structure that will become the nervous system, spinal column and brain is starting to shape. Home remedies and some drugs could affect this development. So can certain illnesses you may contract.
Being healthy during pregnancy is crucial for the baby and for you too. From an embryo that starts half as small as the dot on top of this i you will grow a whole little human being inside yourself. The work the body of a pregnant woman does while resting has been compared to climbing a mountain. Starting as healthy as possible will help you make this work much easier. It's a very good idea to see your obstetrician/gynecologist before you get pregnant. And make an appointment for your partner to see his general physician. That way both of you will know that everything's the way it should be. Many Latinos don't know they have diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which can affect the pregnancy.
And don't forget to get your spirit ready. Fill your heart with todo el amor, all the love you can. Your baby will benefit from it as much as from the folate and vitamins you will give him or her through your blood. La verdad, truth is, I think the secret to the success of my mom's garden is the love and care she pours on it every day.
Eating healthy is always important, but if you are planning to have a baby or are already pregnant, a balanced diet should be one of your priorities. This is not only because you will feel much better, but because once pregnant you will be the one deciding your baby's menu every day. Prenatal vitamins are a only a complement to your diet. There is nothing that can substitute for healthy nutrition. Every day you should eat fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, proteins (meats, poultry, fish or eggs) and dairy products. In Chapter 3 you will find the types of foods and portions recommended during pregnancy. If you are not pregnant yet you can start this diet, subtracting around 200 calories.
Folate or Folic Acid
Folic acid is a member of the B complex group. Our body uses folic acid to make red blood cells and proteins such as DNA. These are required for a baby to develop normally. A lack of folic acid can cause defects in what is called the fetal neural tube, which is the structure the baby's nervous system grows from. One of the most common defects produced by a lack of folic acid is spina bifida, where the spinal column is not closed at its end.
This doesn't mean that if you haven't taken folic acid before getting pregnant, your baby is going to have a defect. Millions of healthy babies have been born even though their mothers didn't take folic acid pills. But today we are aware of the causes of these birth defects, and we know that taking folic acid is one way to reduce the chance they will occur. Since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began their campaign to promote the use of folic acid a few years ago, the number of babies born with these birth defects has dropped by 19 percent.
You can find folic acid in green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and Swiss chard), citrus fruits (like oranges and lemons) and legumes (beans and lentils) as well as in fortified breakfast cereals. In its natural state, or as it's found in these foods, folic acid is called folate. Folic acid is the same vitamin, but made artificially. Our bodies process folic acid more easily than folate, and that's why it's a good idea to take it in pill form before and during your pregnancy.
The recommended dosage for women who plan to get pregnant or who are already pregnant is 400 micrograms daily (0.4 milligrams daily). Most health stores carry folic acid pills in these concentrations, but unless your doctor prescribes it, you shouldn't take more than 1,000 micrograms of folic acid a day. Along with folic acid, you can take a vitamin pill, or you can take a vitamin pill that already contains folic acid. Once you are pregnant, your doctor will prescribe a vitamin pill made especially for pregnant women.
Weight Before Pregnancy
The closer you are to your ideal weight, the easier the pregnancy will be. If you are very overweight, it's advisable to lose as much as you can before getting pregnant because you will gain weight during pregnancy. Two of the most common illnesses for Latinas during pregnancy, diabetes and hypertension, are related to obesity. Various studies show that obese Latinas suffer more complications during pregnancy than those who are at normal weight.
Being overweight doesn't mean carrying a few extra pounds, it means being excessively fat. A visit to your obstetrician/gynecologist will help you determine your health status and whether you should lose weight. For women who are under their ideal weight it is more important to put on a healthy number of pounds during the pregnancy than to gain weight beforehand.
Foods to Watch Out For
Some foods can contain bacteria or toxic substances that may not be harmful to you but can be harmful to the baby. Watch out for them before and during the entire pregnancy.
Soft Latino Cheeses
Listeria is a bacteria that lives in certain types of soft cheeses and can pass through the placenta and infect the baby.
There are a few types of Latino cheeses that can be contaminated, such as queso blanco, queso fresco, queso de hoja, queso de crema and asadero. The list also includes other cheeses such as Feta (sheep's or goat's milk cheese), Brie, Camembert or cheese with blue veins such as Roquefort or blue cheese. To destroy the bacteria you should cook these cheeses until they boil or, better yet, use hard cheeses instead.
Sometimes you can find unwrapped cheeses in some tiendas del barrio, neighborhood shops or minimarkets, sitting next to raw sausages and meats. Take a close look at where these cheeses were before you buy anything because they can be contaminated by other foods.
Ceviche and Other Raw Foods
Bacteria and parasites like raw foods. It's where they can multiply quickly without being disturbed. That's why health authorities advise women who are thinking about getting pregnant not to eat raw fish, meat, eggs or milk and juices that haven't been pasteurized. Ceviche, chorizos (cured sausages), jamon serrano (cured ham), sushi, and carpaccio are more likely to have bacteria or parasites growing in them. It's also a good idea to thoroughly wash raw vegetables before eating them.
The Food and Drug Administration has advised pregnant women and women who are thinking about getting pregnant to avoid several types of fish: tuna, shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. These fish can have high levels of mercury, which could harm the fetus' nervous system. Although fish is an excellent source of nutrients, before and during pregnancy you should eat it just two or three times a week (see page 00).
Animal livers have a lot of vitamin A--that's good for you. But at the same time, the liver contains a lot of the hormones and antibiotics the animals are given, so it's better to limit the amount of liver you eat.
Watch out for two of them: cyclamate and saccharin. Instead, sweeten your drinks with or drink sodas that contain aspartame, which is found in the brands Equal and NutraSweet. Because all these artificial sweeteners are chemical compounds, it's a good idea to use them in moderation. Don't use more than four packets of artificial sweetener a day or drink more than two artificially sweetened sodas daily.
Prepackaged meals contain a lot of preservatives (you know, those unpronounceable ingredients on the back of the box). How they exactly affect your unborn baby is not known, so the best thing to do is to avoid them.
I've got a friend who drinks seven cups of coffee a day, not American coffee but the boiled, strong coffee we Latinos like. She even drinks a cup before going to bed and she claims que duerme como un tronco, she sleeps like a log!
Not everyone is immune to caffeine; babies are definitely not. Caffeine is a stimulant that passes through the placenta, the organ that filters to your baby what you eat or drink. So you might want to start substituting decaffeinated coffee for regular or reducing the number of cups you drink every day. Some studies indicate that a couple of cups of coffee a day during pregnancy aren't harmful. Caffeine is also found in tea, chocolate, and colas as well as in Latino drinks such as mate or guaranue.
Herbal remedies are used by a lot of us Latinas;...