Women have been getting pregnant and giving birth since the beginning of time. It’s natural, but can be complicated. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women and two in every three deaths are preventable.
In recognition of Black Maternal Health Awareness Week (April 11-17), Atlantic Health System obstetrician/gynecologists Dr. Tiffany Martinez and Dr. Mark-Robert Mahaga-Ajala (shown right) offer these five tips to optimize your pregnancy and improve your maternal health:
1. Get connected
Whether you’re pregnant, might be pregnant (missed a period) or are thinking about becoming pregnant, it’s important to speak with your obstetrician or primary care doctor as soon as possible to learn how to begin your pregnancy in a healthy way.
You will need to take a prenatal vitamin and you may need to make lifestyle or dietary changes. If you’re on medication, it may need to be adjusted. And if you have a history of irregular periods, miscarriages or have a preexisting medical condition like high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma, early intervention is vital.
“Talking to your doctor early gives you and your family an advantage to starting your pregnancy journey on the right foot,” says Dr. Martinez.
2. Be informed
There’s a lot of information on the internet about pregnancy, but not all of it is based on sound medical advice or science. Doctors, midwives and doulas study for years and maintain certifications to stay up-to-date on the latest medical advancements. They are an invaluable resource for you.
“Educate yourself and trust your doctor,” says Dr. Mahaga-Ajala. “Google, but don’t just self-diagnose. Talk to your health care provider to get clarity.”
Your body changes in miraculous ways during pregnancy. Stay in tune with your body and report anything that doesn’t feel right to your medical team. Trust your intuition. No one knows your body better than you do.
“Weight gain, swelling in your hands and feet, headaches, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting are all common, but can be signs that something isn’t right if extreme or occurring late in pregnancy,” reminds Dr. Martinez. “Talk to your doctor or midwife about what’s normal for you in your pregnancy journey.”
4. Know the signs
Heart disease (like high blood pressure or abnormal heart rhythms), bleeding, blood clots, depression and diabetes can significantly impact your pregnancy. It’s crucial to know the warning signs related to these conditions.
During and up to one year after pregnancy, tell your doctor right away if you develop any of the following symptoms:
- Leg or facial swelling
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal (stomach) cramping
- Vaginal bleeding or leaking fluid
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing
- Severe fatigue
- Blurry vision
“You are the expert of your body. If something doesn’t feel right, call,” urges Dr. Mahaga-Ajala. “No call or question is silly. Better to ask than worry.”
After pregnancy, your body will continue to change and it’s important that you receive postpartum care. Schedule a postpartum check-up (between two to six weeks after delivery, depending on your childbirth experience) and seek immediate help if you’re experiencing severe headaches, chest pain or shortness of breath.
In addition to being a great resource for postpartum diet, nutrition, exercise, supplementation and breastfeeding information, your health care provider can also help if you’re struggling emotionally. Feelings of prolonged sadness after childbirth (baby blues) that extends beyond two weeks could be postpartum depression. Speak to your obstetrician, midwife or doula to get the help you need.
“Your body is still pregnant — hormonally and functionally — for six weeks after childbirth,” explains Dr. Martinez. “It’s important that you listen to your body and speak to your obstetrician or midwife if something doesn’t feel right.”
Both Dr. Mahaga-Ajala and Dr. Martinez agree that the best thing you can do for you and your baby is to establish a strong support team of family, friends and medical professionals early in your pregnancy journey. A healthy childbirth starts with a healthy pregnancy. The more knowledgeable you are about maternal health and the earlier you seek professional care from your primary care physician, obstetrician, midwife or doula, the greater your chances for a positive outcome for both you and your baby.
Contributing Author: Christina Johnson, MD, PhD >
Be Proactive About Maternal Health
Whether you are thinking about becoming pregnant, or are pregnant, it’s important to speak with your obstetrician or primary care doctor as soon as possible to learn how to begin your pregnancy in a healthy way.
Black Maternal Health Week Panel Discussion
Tammy Murphy, First Lady of New Jersey and Atlantic Health System partnered to help raise awareness and improve the maternal health of Black mothers and babies. First Lady Tammy Murphy and Atlantic Health OBGYNs Dr. Tiffany Martinez and Dr. Mark-Robert Mahaga-Ajala offered five tips to optimize pregnancy and improve maternal health: