Nothing could be more precious than a new addition to the family. That’s why diligent self-care makes sense for mothers-to-be, through all stages of the pregnancy and birth process. By paying close attention to their own well-being, doctors say, expectant moms can help ensure those ‘special deliveries’ are safe and healthy.

Dr. Diane Petersen, SLUCare physician and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and women’s health at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, says a healthy pregnancy actually begins well before conception. “All women thinking about getting pregnant should have a preconception visit with an OB/GYN,” she says. “It’s important to discuss diet, physical activity, medications and existing health conditions. If there are chronic conditions like hypertension or diabetes, we need to make sure those are under control before the patient thinks about becoming pregnant.”

Nutrition is a top concern for expectant moms, Petersen says. “Having a healthy diet and taking prenatal vitamins are important, including taking folic acid at least a month before conception to help prevent neural tube defects,” she says. It’s also a good idea to achieve a healthy weight before getting pregnant. “Obesity brings increased risk for high blood pressure, preeclampsia, preterm birth and gestational diabetes,” Petersen notes. “It puts the baby at higher risk for obesity, too.” She also counsels patients about preventing food-borne illnesses such as listeriosis, which can be linked to stillbirth, preterm labor and miscarriage.

Petersen says doctors differ on whether caffeine is allowable for pregnant women. “To be safe, we say that 200mg of caffeine per day or less is OK,” she explains. “That’s about one 12-ounce cup of coffee.” And there’s no safe level of alcohol, illegal drug or tobacco use, so she advises moms-in-waiting avoid them altogether. “Smoking increases the risk of preterm delivery and placental detachment from the uterus,” Petersen says. “It also can cause infants to be born with asthma, colic and other health issues.” And alcohol use has been linked to behavioral and developmental problems and physical abnormalities in babies, she notes.

Petersen says exercise is safe during pregnancy, and she encourages it as a way of reducing back pain, promoting healthy weight, controlling stress and preparing the body for labor. “We recommend 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per day, without getting overheated,” she says. “Avoid horseback riding, gymnastics or any exercise that keeps you flat on your back. But walking, swimming, working out at the gym, and prenatal yoga and Pilates classes are all good choices.”

Coupling all this advice with regular visits to an OB/GYN can help minimize problems and keep moms-to-be feeling strong, according to Petersen. South St. Louis County resident Abigail Reckamp says Petersen and the SLUCare team did a great job helping her prepare for the births of her two children at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital. “I’ve been going to Dr. Petersen since 2008,” Reckamp says. “Everyone in her office is supportive, thorough and compassionate, and they make it feel like a second home. Anytime I have a question, it’s welcomed and supported. I feel you get a very high level of care there, because the staff stays on top of the latest medical information and technology.”

Petersen adds, “So much of having a healthy pregnancy is wrapped up in good planning. One of the best things about our practice is that we have eight doctors to help with that, each with a different area of specialization. We take care of women for their whole lifespan here.”

The SLUCare Physician Group provides a team approach and specialized care for expectant mothers and their babies. For more information, call 314.977.7455 or visit

Cover design by Julie Streiler | Cover provided by SLUCare Physician Group

Photos courtesy of SLUCare Physician Group