Category Archives: Healthy Pregnancy

Alcohol Effects on Conceiving and Pregnancy

Alcohol Effects on Conceiving and Pregnancy

You can drink until the line on the pregnancy test is pink, your girlfriends say. Sounds catchy and you like not putting your life on hold until the magic moment of conception occurs. But you wonder: Are there reasons not to drink alcohol while you’re trying, and hoping, to become pregnant?

As with all health decisions, consider the evidence so you can make an informed choice that you can live with later. Here’s what you should know:

Does drinking affect my fertility?

Yes, several well-done studies have shown that drinking even 1 to 5 drinks a week decreases a woman’s fertility. Women undergoing in vitro fertilization showed a significant decrease in their odds of a live birth when they drank 4 or more drinks per week, according to Harvard University.

What about alcohol and men’s fertility?

Men don’t get a pass either. Heavy drinking can lower a man’s testosterone and sperm counts as well as decrease libido and even cause impotence. It’s recommended that guys drink within the guidelines for moderate alcohol consumption; the CDC says that’s not more than 2 drinks a day.

When I’m trying to get pregnant what is the riskiest time during my monthly cycle to drink alcohol?

If you have a 28-day cycle, ovulation occurs around the 14th day after the first day of your last period. So, starting at mid-cycle you could be pregnant. In the 2 weeks between ovulation and when a pregnancy test could show the magic pink line the biggest risk of drinking is miscarriage. Alcohol can prevent a pregnancy from implanting on the lining of your uterus so heavy drinking or binging is particularly risky.

Can drinking in early pregnancy affect my baby?

The first 8 weeks of pregnancy are called the embryonic stage; this is when your baby’s organs and systems are forming. It’s important to avoid any alcohol during this time because it can cause significant birth defects. Many women don’t know they’re pregnant in those earliest weeks. So, if you’re not using birth control and you’re having sex, you shouldn’t be drinking alcohol during this time.

If you drink during pregnancy, after this earliest stage, alcohol’s effects on your baby’s brain may cause future behavior and learning problems—a condition known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). (See [insert HMB23 page #]).

The bottom line about drinking and pregnancy?

There’s no safe time in pregnancy, no safe amount and no safe type of alcohol.

 What’s 1 Alcoholic Drink?

1 Drink: 12 ounces of 5% beer, 8 oz 7% malt liquor, 5 oz of 12% wine, 1.5 oz hard liquor

Binge drinking: 4 or more for women, 5 or more for men on one occasion

Heavy drinking: 8 or more per week for women, 15 or more for men

Source: CDC

Further reading: How Men Can Increase Fertility Chances 

By Catherine Ruhl, CNM, MS


Add Cancer-Fighting Antioxidant Foods to Your Diet to Keep You Healthy

Add Cancer-Fighting Antioxidant Foods to Your Diet to Keep You Healthy

Do you want to maximize your intake of disease- and cancer-fighting antioxidants? Add some of these high-antioxidant foods to your diet, as compiled by the South Beach Diet experts:

Pomegranates, small red beans (dried), red kidney beans, pinto beans, blueberries, cranberries, artichokes, blackberries, prunes, raspberries, strawberries, Red Delicious apples, Granny Smith apples, pecans, sweet cherries, black plums, Gala apples, black beans (dried), plums

Although experts recognize that antioxidants as naturally occurring nutrients can help prevent heart disease, cancer, and aging, they don’t know exactly how they work in the body—or whether increasing their intake in food or supplemental form truly helps fight disease. What experts do know is that foods high in antioxidants are some of the foods highest in nutrients and fiber needed for a healthy lifestyle—so eating them can’t hurt, and it will help you stay healthy. It’s important to know that cooking food affects its antioxidant properties: Blueberries are more potent raw; tomatoes become more powerful when cooked.

1. Wild blueberries
2. Kidney beans
3. Pinto beans
4. Cultivated blueberries
5. Cranberries
6. Artichoke hearts
7. Blackberries
8. Prunes
9. Raspberries
10. Strawberries

By AWHONN Editorial Staff

The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) promotes the health of women and newborns.


Essential Kitchen Tools To Encourage Healthy Eating

Essential Kitchen Tools To Encourage Healthy Eating

Healthful eating starts in the kitchen, and thanks to the plethora of cool kitchen gadgets to choose from, healthy cooking has never been faster or easier. Here’s a roundup of some of our favorite gear.

Immersion Blender: Make creamy soups without the calories of actual cream! Just partially puree bean or vegetable soups by inserting an immersion blender in the pot. Turbo-lovers will dig this model’s powerful 200-watt motor, dishwasher-safe stainless steel blending shaft, easy controls and lightweight design.

Try: Cuisinart CSB-76 Smart Stick Hand Blender,, $29.27

Salad Spinner: Nothing beats a salad spinner for washing and drying salad greens, fresh herbs and even fruits. This spinner has a non-slip knob, built-in brake, removable mesh basket and extra lid, which means that the clear plastic tub doubles as a lettuce storage bowl in your fridge after you’ve washed and dried your greens.

Try: OXO Salad Spinner,, $24.99

Chef’s Knife: All cooks should have at least one well-made chef’s knife. It’s a tool you’ll reach for each time you cook or prep produce. We like this one for its German craftsmanship, including high-carbon steel and a triple-riveted handle.

Try: Wüsthof Gourmet 8-inch Cook’s Knife,, $59.99

Veggie Peeler: A peeler that’s comfortable and easy to use is crucial. This one has a super sharp blade and nonstick grip that’s comfortable for both righties and lefties.

Try: Oxo Good Grips i-Series Swivel Peeler,, $13.99

Oil Mister: With a refillable oil mister, you can spritz veggies before roasting, coat pans before sautéing and even give air-popped popcorn a quick spray of flavor without adding too much fat. This model is simple to use and easy to take apart and clean, plus the brushed aluminum with black accents looks elegant on the kitchen counter.

Try: Misto Gourmet Brushed Aluminum Olive Oil Sprayer,, $9.99

Nonstick Skillet: With a nonstick skillet you can sauté veggies, make stir-fries and even scramble eggs—all without the need to add much fat. This pan is the perfect size for anything from eggs to chicken cutlets, and its sturdy base facilitates even heating, while the oven-safe handle and lid go from stove-top to higher temps with ease.

Try: Calphalon One Nonstick 13-Inch Deep Skillet with Glass Lid,, $99.99

Citrus Zester: The key to cooking with less fat is to boost flavor in other ways, and fresh citrus zest is a fantastic way to add zing to salads, stir fries and sauces. We like this super sharp professional quality grater because it can also be used for hard cheeses, like parmesan, whole spices, like fresh nutmeg, and even chocolate. And it comes with a plastic cover to keep it safe in your utensil drawer.

Try: Microplane Premium Zester/Grater,, $14.95

Mini Food Processor: If you lack the time, coordination or simply the desire to chop veggies by hand, then a mini food processor should occupy prime real estate on your countertop. This model features two speeds, an ample sized work bowl and dishwasher-safe parts.

Try: Cuisinart Mini-Prep Processor,, $29.95

Steamer Basket: There’s a reason steamed vegetables never go out of style—they’re fast, easy and exceptionally nutritious. This basket features two side handles for easy lifting, instead of a post in the middle that gets in the way. And because it expands to 10-inches, you can steam lots of veggies at once.

Try: Norpro Stainless-Steel Expandable Vegetable Steamer,, $8.77

Slow Cooker: A slow cooker may seem retro, but modern women juggling busy lives love how these cookers multitask. Simply toss in all the ingredients in the morning, and expect a wholesome, fragrantly simmering dinner waiting for you and your family that night. This large 7-quart pot (big enough for stews or roasts) has a 10-hour timer with digital display and multiple heat settings, including a simmer setting.

Try: Kitchen Aid Slow Cooker,, $129.99

By Jennifer Hellwig, MS, RD
Jennifer Hellwig, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and a senior managing editor at AWHONN, the nursing organization that publishes Healthy Mom&Baby.


Tips on How to Keep Fruits and Vegetables Fresh

Veggies For A Healthy Pregnancy

Who hasn’t brought fruits and veggies home from the grocery store only to find them wilted and lackluster in the refrigerator bin just a few days later? If you take time to prep your produce you can have fresh, crisp veggies that last for up to a week or more—all ready to use at your convenience:

Greens: After a good rinsing in a colander, pat gently and air dry on paper towels until completely dry; leave some leaves whole for sandwiches and chop the rest for salads; store in an airtight container or bag with a dry paper towel to draw out any additional moisture.

Crunchy Veggies: Making salads couldn’t be faster if you wash and dry your bell peppers, broccoli, cucumbers and other crunchy veggies as you do your lettuce. Then chop them up to size for your planned uses (including snacks!) and store them in an airtight (we prefer glass) container for up to a week or more.

Berries: Unfortunately washing just makes these mushy, so portion into individual containers and then rinse as you use them.

Fruit in the skins: Bananas, apples, oranges and other fruits with heavier skins ripen and stay freshest at room temperature. Plus, bananas and apples expel a gas that can ripen other fruits and veggies when placed in proximity in the refrigerator.

Root veggies: Who has a cellar for these anymore? Let sit at room temperature, turning them occasionally to avoid bruising that can lead to rot, and wash them only right before you want to use them.

By AWHONN Editorial Staff

The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) promotes the health of women and newborns.


Interview: Ricki Lake on giving birth, pregnancy and motherhood

Interview: Ricki Lake on giving birth, pregnancy and motherhood

Ricki Lake never imagined that one of her more memorable film roles would involve giving birth in a bathtub. When the actress and former talk-show host delivered her son Owen six years ago, she recorded his home birth for posterity. She never envisioned the footage would be seen outside of her immediate family.

Fast forward to January, when Lake’s documentary, The Business of Being Born, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. The movie, which celebrates midwifery and natural birthing methods—while scrutinizing how some hospitals deliver maternal care—is Lake’s baby in every sense of the word. The film shows Lake birthing Owen at home with the help of a midwife. “There I was at 195 pounds, naked and giving birth to my son in the bathtub,” says Lake, who turns 40 this year. “I was hesitant at first to include the footage in the film. It’s very intimate but it’s also a beautiful moment.”

A labor of love

Lake had vastly different birthing experiences with her two sons. Milo, who is now 11, was born in a New York City hospital where Lake’s childbirth experience deviated from her birth plan. Although she had a midwife present, the hospital had certain protocols, and after a long labor she eventually had to be induced. Although she received exemplary care, Lake wondered if her son’s birth might have been different without all of the medical interventions. “I was in labor for almost 36 hours, tethered to an IV that was dispensing [the labor-inducing drug] Pitocin,” she says. “I didn’t feel as if I was in control of my body or that I had many choices.”

After reading the classic Spiritual Midwifery by midwife Ina May Gaskin, Lake decided to birth Owen at home, in water, surrounded by her midwife and family. “With my second son the delivery was nine hours long and I was entertaining friends and family at my home the next day,” says Lake.

Lake decided she had a story to tell as well as the background and resources needed to explore the notion of an ideal birth experience. She approached friend and director Abby Epstein with the idea of filming a documentary that would examine the politics and history of birthing in America, while also attempting to answer some tough questions, like why the U.S. spends twice as much per birth as any other industrialized country but still has high mortality rates for infants. Lake also asks, “Why are one in three women having C-sections? Are they really medically necessary?”

Lake wanted to advocate for the rights of expectant mothers and for better maternal care. So she bankrolled the project and served as its executive producer. To capture a variety of views and experiences, Lake and Epstein interviewed doctors, nurses, medical anthropologists and midwives while also following several women through their pregnancies and births.

Advocating choice

While some critics say the film advocates natural home births, Lake says her only goal was to educate pregnant women about their birthing options. “The film doesn’t advocate anything other than choices,” she says. “I’m not recommending that all women have a natural home birth or forego having an epidural.”

During her own pregnancies she grew tired of movies and television shows that depicted pregnant women lying in hospital beds screaming; she wanted the film to show birthing in a positive light. The film includes a number of women giving birth; these scenes have been praised for their mixture of delicacy and humor. “Books and movies can scare the hell out of pregnant women,” says Lake. “I want women to realize that giving birth isn’t an illness that needs to be numbed but rather a miraculous event that should be experienced.”

When Epstein learned she was pregnant during the filming, her experience also became part of the documentary. She originally opted to have a home birth, but after learning her baby was in a breech position, Epstein was admitted to a hospital where she delivered her son by Caesarean section.

Although the surgery was unexpected, both Epstein and Lake say the experience illustrated why women need to be educated about their options. “We don’t want women to feel bad if they have a C-section,” Lake says. “Our belief is that C-sections are fine as long as they are only performed to guarantee the health of the mother and baby. They shouldn’t be the first choice of delivery for healthy mothers.”

Celebrating midwives

Lake is especially passionate about the role of midwives in birth. She cites national research demonstrating that midwives achieve the same outcomes as physicians but with fewer disruptions to the natural process of birth. Midwives have also been shown to reduce Caesarean section rates by more than 50%, and their patients have significantly lower rates of episiotomies, induced labor and forceps births. Today’s certified nurse midwives are professional healthcare providers and registered nurses who have graduated from one of the advanced education programs accredited by the American College of Nurse Midwives.

Midwives assist women in all types of birthing situations and facilities; Lake had midwives present for both of her sons’ births—even during her first son’s hospital birth. “I’m not anti-doctor or anti-hospital,” Lake says. “I think it’s important for women to know what the statistics and risks are—for both a natural home birth and a hospital one.”

Educating women

To date, the film has been well received. By April it had already been rented or reserved by 85,000 customers of the online movie company Netflix. Another 14,000 subscribers opted to watch the movie online. “We’ve had obstetricians tell us that the medical community is embracing our film as a very important tool,” says Lake. “Midwives have thanked us for promoting an awareness of their profession, and women are telling us that in some cases they have switched care providers and left the film with very different ideas about their birth plan.”

Lake and Epstein are continuing their journey to empower expectant mothers with a new book, Your Best Birth, slated to hit bookstores next spring. “The book covers everything from questions to ask a midwife to having a vaginal birth after Cesarean,” Lake says. “I am so excited about both the movie and the book. I truly feel that these projects give my life meaning.”

The book will also feature the experiences of other celebrities, including supermodel Cindy Crawford, who birthed her two children at home. “She was a fantastic person to interview,”
Lake says. “She was very open about both of her children’s births and how the experiences changed her.”

Lake says that being a mom has altered her own life for the better. She revels in watching her sons grow up. “Both boys saw the premiere of the documentary with me,” Lake says. “And Owen gave me a beautiful handmade card that said, ‘Thank you for letting me be born in our bathtub at home.’ ” And for that, says Lake, he is very welcome.


By Linda Childers


A Flu Shot During Pregnancy Can Save You and Your Baby

A Flu Shot During Pregnancy Can Save You and Your Baby

You can protect your newborn from the flu if you get a flu shot during your pregnancy, says the New England Journal of Medicine. Getting the flu shot during pregnancy reduces flu among infants by as much as 63%, but currently only half of women who are pregnant during the flu season get the vaccination, even though it is safe and has been recommended since 1997.

Some women may not know that flu shots are recommended for pregnant women. But the flu can cause major problems during pregnancy, including increased risk for complications such as high fevers linked to increased risks for certain birth defects and hospitalization for respiratory problems associated with the flu.

Most healthcare providers typically give the flu shot during the second or third trimester, but if you’re an at-risk mom, such as someone who has asthma, the flu shot can be safely given even as early as the first trimester. The flu shot is also safe for breastfeeding moms and their newborns.

How does the flu shot you get protect your baby after birth? Although the flu vaccine isn’t recommended for infants ages 6 months or younger, vaccinated moms can pass along protective flu antibodies to their babies while pregnant and during breastfeeding.

If you’re concerned about thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative in flu shots, ask your healthcare provider for the thimerosal-free options widely available.

By AWHONN Editorial Staff

The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) promotes the health of women and newborns.


Smoking, drinking alcohol and doing drugs can hinder your baby’s development

Smoking, drinking alcohol and doing drugs can hinder your baby’s development

If you’re pregnant, here’s a great reason to stop smoking, drinking or using illegal drugs: These substances negatively alter your baby’s brain structure and create problems that can persist into your child’s teen years. “We found that reductions in cortical gray matter and total brain volumes were associated with prenatal exposure to cocaine, alcohol or cigarettes,” says researcher Dr. Michael Rivkin, a neurologist at Children’s Hospital in Boston and lead author on a recent study that used MRI technology to track brain changes over time in infants who were exposed to these substances in the womb. The study is the first to document the long-term brain damage of prenatal cocaine, alcohol and tobacco exposure. The greater the exposure, the more the baby’s brain volume was reduced overall while in the womb.

By AWHONN Editorial Staff

The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) promotes the health of women and newborns.


Pregnant women can gain a stronger immune system with H1N1 vaccine

Pregnant women can gain a stronger immune system with H1N1 vaccine

Healthy pregnant women who received the current swine flu shot are developing a robust immune response with just one shot containing the 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine, say federal officials monitoring the 2009 flu vaccination campaign.

“For pregnant women, who are among the most vulnerable to serious health problems from 2009 H1N1 infection, these initial results are very reassuring,” says Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health.”The immune responses seen in these healthy pregnant women are comparable to those seen in healthy adults at the same time point after a single vaccination, and the vaccine has been well tolerated,”he said of the initial results from an ongoing clinical trial sponsored by the NIAID.

As of the end of October, at least 100 pregnant women have been hospitalized in intensive care units in the United States and at the last official count, 28 pregnant women have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since the outbreak began last spring,

A preliminary analysis of blood samples taken 21 days post-vaccination from a subgroup of 50 pregnant women participating in the trial showed that 92% to 96% of all women developed a likely protective response to the virus. All participants in the study were between 18 to 39 years old and began the study in their second or third trimester (14 to 34 weeks) of pregnancy.

Safety is being monitored closely in the trial, by the study investigators and by an independent panel of experts known as a safety monitoring committee. To date, the vaccine appears to be well-tolerated, and no safety concerns related to the vaccine have arisen, federal experts say.

By AWHONN Editorial Staff

The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) promotes the health of women and newborns.


Learn How Pregnancy Affects Your Sex Life

Learn How Pregnancy Affects Your Sex Life

You’ve probably figured out by now that sex had something to do with getting pregnant. But how does pregnancy affect sex? Now that you’re pregnant, you may have noticed some changes in your body and your desire when it comes to sex.

How Pregnancy Affects Sex

For many women, sexual changes occur throughout the nine months of pregnancy and it seems that there may be a general pattern. For many women, the nausea and fatigue that happens in the first trimester puts sex on the very back burner. You are just too sick and too tired! Your partner may not want to be sexual for fear of harming the fetus or causing something to go wrong. This is an idea that has no basis in fact but is usually a belief passed down in the family that pregnant woman should not have sex.

The second trimester is often a time when sexual interest and activity increases. You feel better, you look great and you have more energy. Your partner notices your beautiful growing belly and you feel sexy and desirable.

And then in the third trimester things slow down again. You may be too large for sex to be comfortable and/or you may once again be fatigued. For some people, the thought of having sex with a baby in there is just not a good thought. Some men (and women) have told me that they think the baby can “see” what his/her parents are doing! Or that the penis can bump the baby on the head! The fetus is well protected in the uterus by the cervix and the amniotic fluid and the fetus has no idea what sex is so cannot see or understand any of that. But beliefs are very strong and so many couples are not sexually active as the pregnancy draws to an end.

Sex Before Labor

We know that for the woman at the end of her pregnancy, sexual intercourse may help to stimulate labor. If and only if the cervix is ready, nipple stimulation may be enough to start contractions, and the semen deposited at the cervix from ejaculation contains prostoglandins that can actually soften the cervix and help to prepare it for labor. So if you are at your due date, or even better past your due date, and your waters have not broken, a nice romantic evening may hasten things along! And its way more fun than IVs and other drugs!

By Anne Katz, RN, PhD


A Look At Weight Gain During Pregnancy

A Look At Weight Gain During Pregnancy

So, you’re pregnant. Congratulations! This is a very special time in your life. It’s also, I recognize, an anxious time. Pregnancy-related issues that are not strictly health-related – including preparation for your child’s homecoming, finances and balancing family and work life once your baby is born – all weigh heavily on your mind.

You’re also, understandably, concerned about your baby’s health. You and your healthcare providers will spend a great deal of time in the coming months talking about things that can affect the health of your baby – such as whether to take folic acid supplements, acceptable amounts of fish or caffeine in your diet or whether certain activities are safe for the baby.

You’ll also spend some time talking about how much weight to gain. Women have long been concerned about how much weight to gain during pregnancy. Some of this concern, unfortunately, is cultural – the fear of appearing fat. But health concerns also drive a good deal of this worry, as they should.

Some weight gain during pregnancy is appropriate. But pregnancy isn’t license to break out the bonbons, either. There is such a thing as too much weight gain during pregnancy. There’s also great risk in gaining too little weight.

Your mother or grandmother might be surprised by what’s recommended. There was a time when the medical community used to think that the higher the weight gain, the greater the birth weight of the baby, and that bigger babies automatically came with greater risk of complications. But we’ve come to understand that the amount of weight each woman should gain, as well as its impact on her baby’s health, may be different depending on her weight before pregnancy and other factors.

In fact, recent studies have demonstrated that there is great risk associated with gaining too little weight during pregnancy. There’s great risk in gaining too much weight, too, so it’s important to stay within the recommended range.

Talk with your healthcare provider about these ranges. Work with her or him to devise a pregnancy diet plan that works for you. It’s a challenge to balance the amount of weight gain needed to ensure your health and that of your baby – so it’s important that you engage your healthcare team to achieve that balance.

Healthy weight gain in pregnancy

So, how much weight should you gain? It depends on how much you weigh now. First, calculate your body mass index, or BMI. (An online BMI calculator can be found here). Then, use the chart below to determine the appropriate amount of weight to gain during pregnancy:


BMI Appropriate weight to gain during pregnancy
Underweight 28-40 pounds
Normal 25-35 pounds
Overweight 15-25 pounds
Obese 11-20 pounds


By Carolyn M. Clancy, MD