Pregnancy Planning (Preparing for Pregnancy) (cont.)

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How much weight gain is recommended in pregnancy?

The mother's pre-pregnancy weight should be taken into account when estimating how much weight gain is appropriate for a healthy pregnancy. Women with multiple gestation pregnancies will need to gain more weight to maintain a healthy pregnancy than those with singleton pregnancies. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has issued guidelines for recommended weight gain in women who have a singleton pregnancy. They are as follows:

  • Underweight women (BMI < 18.5) should gain 28-40 pounds.
  • Normal-weight women (BMI, 18.5-24.9) should gain 25-35 pounds.
  • Overweight women (BMI, 25-29.9) should gain 15-25 pounds
  • Obese women (BMI, 30 or higher) should gain 11-20 pounds.

What about alcohol consumption and pregnancy planning?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of conditions reflecting the possible effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol. These include fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD), and alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disabilities (ARND). Fetal alcohol syndrome is a leading cause of cognitive disabilities in children. The exact amount of alcohol exposure that is associated with these disorders has not been determined, so there is no known limit for safe alcohol consumption in pregnancy. For this reason, women planning to conceive and pregnant women are advised not to drink alcohol.

What infections should be avoided in pregnancy?

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As mentioned above, avoiding certain foods can help prevent infection with Listeria bacteria, which can cause problems with pregnancy. Viral infections that can cause problems for the mother and/or the fetus include rubella (German measles), varicella (chicken pox), HIV, hepatitis B, herpes simplex virus (HSV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), and parvovirus B19. As previously mentioned, infection with the parasite Toxoplasma also is a risk for pregnant women.

Rubella virus infection in early pregnancy can cause miscarriage or birth defects. Therefore, women of childbearing age are tested for immunity to this virus, and those lacking antibodies to the rubella virus should be vaccinated against this virus.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common viral infection that typically does not cause problems or symptoms. About 1%-4% of pregnant women have the infection, and those with active infection will pass it to their babies in about one-third of cases. Most babies born with cytomegalovirus infection will not have problems, but in certain cases, some can develop hearing, vision, neurologic, and developmental problems over time. In rare cases, symptoms can be seen at birth, including premature delivery, small size for gestational age, jaundice, enlarged liver and spleen, rash, microcephaly (small head), seizures, and feeding problems. There is no vaccine available to prevent cytomegalovirus infection.

If a pregnant woman has genital herpes infection, it is possible to transmit the virus to the baby at the time of delivery. Herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection can have multiple effects in the newborn. The infection may be limited to the eyes, skin and mouth. It may be localized to the central nervous system or may be widespread. Antiviral medications are given to the newborn after delivery. Cesarean delivery (C-section) is recommended for most women with an active outbreak of genital HSV infection at the time of labor to prevent transmission of the infection to the baby.

Parvovirus B19 causes fifth disease, a common mild disease of childhood that is spread by respiratory secretions or blood. Pregnant women who have not previously had fifth disease should avoid contact with people with the condition since parvovirus B-19 can infect the fetus. About 65% of pregnant women in North America have evidence of previous infection with parvovirus B-19, while acute parvovirus B-19 infection occurs in up to 2% of pregnant women in endemic periods. About 30% of women who develop parvovirus B19 infection in pregnancy will transmit the infection across the placenta to the fetus. Although no birth defects have been reported as a result of fifth disease, the infection can cause fetal death. For women who contract parvovirus in the first trimester, the rate of fetal loss can be as high as 10%. Avoiding persons with fifth disease can greatly reduce the chances of becoming infected.

Hepatitis viruses B and C can affect newborns, but hepatitis B is much more commonly passed from a pregnant woman to her baby. Only about 4% of fetuses exposed to maternal hepatitis C become infected while that percentage is much higher for those with Hepatitis B (90%).

Infants born to mothers infected with the hepatitis B virus are given both hepatitis B antibodies and hepatitis B vaccinations at birth for protection. Currently there is no effective way to prevent transmission of hepatitis C in newborns, and the medications used to treat hepatitis C in adults are not recommended for pregnant woman or infants.

HIV infection can also be passed from a mother to the baby. The chances of this happening can be greatly reduced by treating the mother with certain medication regimens during pregnancy.

Varicella, or chickenpox, infection can cause pneumonia or even death in older adults and in pregnant women. Varicella vaccine is available for women who are not immune to chickenpox. After receiving the varicella vaccine, women should wait 30 days before attempting conception.

Toxoplasma is a parasite that is transmitted through cat feces and raw meats, especially pork. As with infection with the rubella virus, toxoplasmosis can cause birth defects if the infection occurs during early pregnancy. Women planning pregnancy can decrease the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis by avoiding raw meat and avoid handling cat litter boxes. It is possible to have been exposed to toxoplasmosis and have immunity to the infection without being aware of it it. Women can have a blood test to determine if they have immunity to toxoplasmosis; if the test is positive for toxoplasmosis immunity, the woman will not develop toxoplasmosis complications during pregnancy. There is no vaccine available to prevent toxoplasmosis.

Zika virus is a Flavivirus that is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito that carries the virus. The resulting illness lasts a few days to a week and causes symptoms like fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (redness of the eyes). The virus has been traditionally reported in Africa and Indonesia, but it has continued to spread to North and South America (Mexico, Columbia, Brazil, and into the Caribbean islands). In Brazil, the viral infection has been linked to birth defects (mainly small head and small brain size, known as microcephaly) in babies whose mothers became infected with Zika virus during their pregnancy, but the direct cause-and-effect relationship has not been proven. As a result of this, a recent health advisory from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dated Jan. 15, 2016, recommended that pregnant women should consider postponing travel to an area where Zika virus transmission is occurring. An updated list of areas that should be avoided by pregnant women can be found at the CDC web site (

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/26/2016

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