What is maternal health?
Maternal health refers to the health of mothers during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum (after childbirth) period.
How can I have a healthy pregnancy?
Prenatal care is the health care you get while you are pregnant. If you are planning to get pregnant or think that you might be pregnant already, you should schedule a visit with an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN).
The best time to start your prenatal appointments is before you become pregnant. If that’s not possible, try to see a doctor before you are 10 weeks pregnant. Your doctor will help you schedule future appointments to make sure you stay healthy throughout your pregnancy.
Prenatal visits usually include:
- A physical exam
- Weight checks
- Providing a urine (pee) sample
Depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy, they may also include things like:
- Blood tests
- Ultrasound exams (taking images of the fetus)
Eating healthy foods is very important during pregnancy, for both you and your baby. A balanced diet with plenty of protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will help your baby grow and can help you lower your risk for certain pregnancy-related health conditions.
Folic acid is a vitamin that is very important for the healthy development of your baby. Not enough folic acid in your diet can lead to birth defects in your baby. Experts recommend that you take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day during pregnancy. Folic acid is found in:
- Some leafy green vegetables (such as spinach)
- Most berries, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, and breakfast cereals
- Most prenatal vitamins
Taking a prenatal vitamin every day can help you make sure you are getting enough of the vitamins and minerals that help your baby grow during pregnancy. However, a prenatal vitamin does not replace a healthy diet.
Foods to Avoid
Some foods can be unsafe to eat during pregnancy. You should avoid:
- Raw meat/fish
- Cold deli meats
- Soft cheeses and unpasteurized milk
Physical activity during pregnancy is good for your overall health. Things like going for a walk can keep your heart and lungs healthy during and after your pregnancy.
Talk to your doctor about the kinds of activity you can do during and after your pregnancy.
You may need to make lifestyle choices to help you and your baby stay healthy during your pregnancy.
Cigarettes and Other Substances
Smoking cigarettes, using drugs, and drinking alcohol during pregnancy can be very harmful to your baby. If you are pregnant and having trouble quitting, talk to your doctor about finding support.
Stress can affect your body and the development of your baby. Talk to your doctor about finding ways to manage your stress.
Common Concerns during Pregnancy
Pregnancy can come with complications.
Depression and Anxiety
About 3 out of every 20 women experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy. Your doctor can help you find treatment options that work for you.
During pregnancy, it can be easier to get common infections and illnesses, including yeast infections, flu and COVID-19. These infections can also be more severe if you are pregnant, and some can make your baby sick. Be sure you get all recommended vaccinations, including flu and COVID vaccines. And if you have any symptoms, talk to a doctor or healthcare provider.
Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy in someone who has never had diabetes. It usually goes away after your baby is born, but it can mean you are more likely to have type 2 diabetes later in life.
Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
Gestational hypertension is high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy. It usually starts after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Your doctor will check your blood pressure at every visit. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor can give you information on how to manage it to keep yourself and your baby safe.
Preeclampsia is a serious complication of pregnancy. With preeclampsia, you might have high blood pressure, too much protein in your pee, and other signs of organ damage. It usually happens late in pregnancy and can be dangerous for you and your baby. Your doctor will check for preeclampsia at your visits, which is another reason it is important to get regular prenatal care. You should also call a doctor if you notice you suddenly gain a lot of weight in 1-2 days, are peeing less (or not at all), have a severe headache, or develop other symptoms. It is important to catch preeclampsia early. The only cure for preeclampsia is to give birth. Your doctor might decide to deliver your baby early to keep you and your baby safe.
Pregnancy loss is the death of a fetus (unborn baby) at any time during pregnancy. Pregnancy loss before you are 20 weeks pregnant is also called a miscarriage. Miscarriages are very common, especially if it is your first time being pregnant. Most pregnancy loss cannot be prevented and is not the fault of the pregnant person or anyone else. If you experience pregnancy loss, you should see a doctor to make sure you don’t get sick. Losing a pregnancy can also cause sadness and grief. You and your family members might want to see a counselor (therapist). If you are feeling very upset or depressed, you can also contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
Preterm labor is labor that begins early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are called premature. Being premature can sometimes cause health problems for the baby at birth and later in life. If you have any signs of labor, like your water breaking or contractions, you should call your healthcare provider right away. They might give you treatment to help stop it, or you might get treatment to help improve your baby’s health before birth. We don’t always know what causes preterm labor and premature birth, but you can lower your risk by making healthy choices during pregnancy, like not smoking or drinking.
How can I take care of myself after pregnancy?
It is important to take care of your health after pregnancy while your body heals. Experts recommend that all women see their own doctor within the first 3 weeks after having a baby. However, you should call sooner if your doctor tells you to. If you have any signs of postpartum complications, like increased bleeding or a fever, you should call your doctor right away or call 911 or go to the emergency room.
Postpartum depression is a medical condition that many women get after having a baby. It causes strong feelings of sadness, worry, and tiredness that can make it hard for you to take care of yourself and your baby. Postpartum depression can happen any time after childbirth. It is not your fault, and it needs treatment to get better. If you have sad feelings that last longer than 2 weeks, tell your doctor or health care provider. They can check to see if you have postpartum depression, and help you get better.
Breastfeeding is a way of feeding your baby with milk your body creates. There are many benefits of breastfeeding for both your baby and you, when it is possible. When you are in the hospital, a nurse or lactation consultant (breastfeeding expert) can help your baby learn to breastfeed. While breastfeeding works well for many moms and babies, some moms are not able to breastfeed, or have to give formula too. Formula is still a healthy, safe, and loving way to feed your baby.
Free Breast Pump
If you are breastfeeding, a breast pump can help you “pump” milk from your breasts into bottles that your baby can drink. Most new moms can get a free breast pump through their insurance. To find out if you can get one, call the number on the back of your insurance card. Or, talk with a Community Health Worker to get connected to a local maternal health program. You can find a Community Health Worker by filling out the form here.
How can I avoid getting pregnant?
Contraception, also known as birth control or family planning, can keep you from getting pregnant if you don’t want to be. Examples of birth control include intrauterine devices (also called IUDs), implants, the pill, and condoms. You can talk with your doctor about the best kind of contraception for you.
For most women, it’s best to wait at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again. This gives your body time to fully recover from your last pregnancy. Getting pregnant too soon after giving birth can increase your risk for premature birth and other health challenges.
Resources: ob/gyn; centering; healthy start
Visit the home page to find more information on choosing a doctor, paying for health care, or preparing for appointments.
Common Maternal Health Terms
The period of time before birth, during pregnancy.
The lower end of the uterus. Your cervix will dilate, or open, during labor to allow the baby to pass through.
Birth control: Medicines, devices, or surgeries used to prevent pregnancy.
A pregnancy that is outside of the uterus, most commonly in a fallopian tube.
A pair of tubes inside the body that carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus
An unborn baby
Relating to pregnancy
A doctor who specializes in female reproductive health. Often called OB/GYN.
A doctor who specializes in delivering babies and caring for people during and after pregnancy. Often call OB/GYN.
A pair of organs that make eggs.
An organ that develops inside the uterus during pregnancy to give oxygen and nutrients to the fetus.
The period of time after childbirth
An ultrasound uses sound waves to create a picture of your baby. Doctors use it to check the health of your baby. Ultrasound is completely safe for you and your baby.
The organ where a fetus grows and develops during pregnancy
More about Maternal Health