Pregnancy Pregnancy Health

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    Though it's one of the most joyful times for a woman, pregnancy may also cause uncomfortable symptoms -- from morning sickness to swollen ankles and all manner of annoyances in between. Making matters worse: You may want to avoid over-the-counter treatments, preferring instead to take the more natural route to feeling your best. 

    Thankfully, aromatherapy is an unsung hero that can offer various benefits for expectant moms, from pure stress relief to keeping issues like nausea or backaches at bay. But a word of warning: "When considering plant oils in pregnancy, one should approach them in the same way as any other medication," says reproductive endocrinologist Anate Aelion Brauer, M.D., OB/GYN with Greenwich Fertility & IVF Center in Connecticut. "Although essential oils are natural, it is important to use caution, as many effects in pregnancy are unknown."

    Here, the "dos and "don'ts" of using essential oils during pregnancy.

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    While most pregnant women have heard they shouldn’t drink tons of coffee, decaf isn’t so clear-cut. Decaf, after all, still has some caffeine, and certain studies (though not all) have linked this stimulant to higher miscarriage rates. Further complicating matters is the fact that the amount of caffeine varies widely in both decaf and regular. Still, that doesn’t mean pregnant women must abstain from this beverage completely.

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    A new mom in Tennessee is the first woman ever to be charged under a new state law that criminalizes drug use during pregnancy, referring to it as an "assault" on the unborn baby.

    Handcuffs were slapped onto Mallory Loyola, 26, just days after she gave birth and it was discovered that her newborn tested positive for meth. The new mom confessed that she had smoked methamphetamine just days before her delivery. As she was being discharged from the hospital, Loyola was reportedly arrested and was held in jail without bond until she was recently released on $2,000 bail and charged with a misdemeanor.

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    Out of one million pregnant women a year classified as "high-risk" or "at-risk," 70 percent will be put on bed rest by their health care provider. And bed rest is prescribed for about 20 percent of all pregnant women. Most often, doctors recommend it for various conditions, like preeclampsia or cervical incompetence, which could lead to premature birth. The rationale being that very minimal activity can take pressure off the cervix, reduce strain on the heart and improve blood flow to the kidneys, increase circulation to the uterus, and minimize the level of stress hormones that can trigger contractions.

    But as helpful as that sounds and as excited as some expectant moms are to be prescribed chill-out time, others are skeptical that it's right for them -- and their baby. Especially when they've got a job, a household to run, and a few other kids to take care of. And it's not just moms who are unsure about bed rest; as it turns out, there's definitely a medical case against bed rest.

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    An expectant mom in upstate New York is in recovery after being attacked by a rabid fox in front of her home late last month. After the harrowing incident, Shannon Edwards received the first round in a series of four rabies vaccine shots and stitches. Sure, it's one more thing Edwards has to add to an already packed medical regimen, and a tough call to boot, given that she's six months pregnant, and there are risks associated with any vaccine. But that was a fear Edwards had to face -- head-on.

    Rabies could be fatal, attacking the brain and spinal cord. And it can take a while -- several weeks to several months -- for rabies symptoms to appear, but early treatment after an exposure can prevent it. In short, Edwards did what she had to do to protect herself -- and her unborn child.

    This is just one extreme example of the difficult decisions moms-to-be have to make all the time.

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    Constipation. "It is almost the number-one complaint I get from all of my patients at some point during the pregnancy," reveals Aron Schuftan, MD, OB/GYN in a private practice in Silicon Valley, California. In fact, the American Pregnancy Association estimates that half of pregnant women experience constipation. It can be a problem at any time during the pregnancy, but women are most often affected in the first trimester and third trimester. The reason? "Increased levels of progesterone in your body slows intestines down and increases absorption of fluid," Dr. Schuftan explains. Pressure of the expanding uterus on the intestines can also contribute.

    Although it can be painful and annoying, constipation isn't dangerous and shouldn't cause you alarm. But there are some prevention and treatment (ah, relief) tips to bear in mind.

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    Although we're told sex when you're pregnant is perfectly safe, the question remains: What about oral sex? Is doing or returning the favor potentially troublesome for you or your baby?

    Generally speaking, no, but according to Sara Gottfried, M.D., author of The Hormone Cure, there are a few techniques to avoid.

    Here, the details:

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    Pregnancy means the end of many things: sushi, feta cheese, alcohol. But it doesn't have to signal the stoppage of your favorite activities, like your workouts. Take, for instance, Olympic runner Alysia Montano, a five-time U.S. national track and field champion, who completed the 800-meter run at 34 weeks pregnant.

    And better yet? She finished in fifth place and was never lapped by another runner. Did we also mention that she was 34 weeks pregnant?! Wow. 

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    A new link between pregnancy and toxins could make you give your "natural" household products a second look. A study found that pregnant women who live within a mile of places where pesticides are used have a higher risk for having a child with autism. The highest risk is for women in their last trimester, and for those living near a golf course or farm. So what does that have to do with what's in your cabinets at home?

    Well, you may not have much control over how your neighbors treat their lawns and crops. But it turns out, some of those same chemicals linked to autism can be found in your own home, and from the very sources you'd least expect.

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    Whether it's a passing headache or nagging backache with a side of lovely sciatica-triggered tingles down your leg, having to cope with any sort of pain during pregnancy is no picnic! Although over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen are considered safe for expectant moms, a recent JAMA Pediatrics study raised concerns about the former, concluding that it could potentially disrupt hormones and influence fetal brain development. Unnerving to say the least.

    More research needs to be done, of course, but it's not unreasonable to want to seek out alternatives for relief, if only as a way to keep OTC drug use to a minimum. Here, 9 natural, safe prenatal pain-fighters you could try instead ...

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