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Waiting for Bebe: A Pregnancy Guide for Latinas

Waiting for Bebe: A Pregnancy Guide for Latinas

by Lourdes Alcañiz

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"Waiting for Bebe" will deal with the unique concerns, both physiological and cultural, that Hispanic women face during pregnancy. In addition to the increased risk of gestational diabetes, Latinas also must be aware of their increased risks for developing hypertension, gallbladder disease, tuberculosis, rubella, obesity, and depression, all of which, if left


"Waiting for Bebe" will deal with the unique concerns, both physiological and cultural, that Hispanic women face during pregnancy. In addition to the increased risk of gestational diabetes, Latinas also must be aware of their increased risks for developing hypertension, gallbladder disease, tuberculosis, rubella, obesity, and depression, all of which, if left undiagnosed at the time of pregnancy, can have devastating effects on the unborn child. "Waiting for Bebe" not only will address these specific health concerns, but will also explore the rich cultural traditions and myths surrounding pregnancy in Hispanic culture.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Many books claim to be written especially for various minority groups. While these are well composed, their information is really quite generic and applicable to people of any race or creed. This is not the case, however, with Waiting for Beb . Alcaniz, an award-winning health journalist and the Florida correspondent for Radio Bilingue, does an exceptional job of providing thorough and accessible medical information while still catering to Latinas. Alcaniz includes Spanish terminology and specifically addresses herbs, foods, beverages, customs, and social beliefs indigenous to Latino culture. Her comprehensive text spans from preconception to post-labor and includes sections for the father-to-be, checklists, questions to ask the doctor, a section describing insurance options, and a really well-written portion on gestational diabetes and other pregnancy-related conditions that affect Hispanic women in particular. Practical but not preachy, this is sure to be of enormous help to mothers-to-be, especially first-time mothers. Suitable for general, consumer health, and Hispanic American collections at most public libraries. [A Spanish-language edition titled Esperando a Mi Beb will be published in a Random House Espanol trade paperback. ISBN 1-4000-181-1. $17.95.-Ed.]-Nicole A. Cooke, Montclair State Univ., Upper Montclair, NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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Read an Excerpt


Getting Ready for Bebe

Every time my mother peels an apple, a tomato or a peach, she buries the peels in her garden. Well-nourished soil, she says, yields healthy plants. And she must be right because there's always disputes among our neighbors and family to see who gets the leftover calabacitas or zucchini my mom doesn't need. She's certainly got the best garden in the neighborhood.

The equivalent of this secret for a woman who wants to become pregnant is folate or folic acid, a balanced diet and prenatal visits. If you're thinking about having a baby, one of the best things you can do is prepare your body for pregnancy. And if you're already pregnant, it's never too late to start giving your baby the best possible care. The information in this chapter will help you achieve a healthy pregnancy for both you and your baby.

Taking care of yourself before conceiving is very important because some of the most critical moments of a baby's development take place during the first weeks of gestation, when you probably don't even know you're pregnant. In fact, this advice applies to all women of childbearing age, since half the pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.

What you eat and do is as important as what you don't eat and don't do. The beginning of the pregnancy is when the baby is most vulnerable to what you send to him or her through your blood. At this time the structure that will become the nervous system, spinal column and brain is starting to shape. Home remedies and some drugs could affect this development. So can certain illnesses you may contract.

Being healthy during pregnancy is crucial for the baby and for you too. From an embryo that starts half as small as the dot on top of this i you will grow a whole little human being inside yourself. The work the body of a pregnant woman does while resting has been compared to climbing a mountain. Starting as healthy as possible will help you make this work much easier. It's a very good idea to see your obstetrician/gynecologist before you get pregnant. And make an appointment for your partner to see his general physician. That way both of you will know that everything's the way it should be. Many Latinos don't know they have diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which can affect the pregnancy.

And don't forget to get your spirit ready. Fill your heart with todo el amor, all the love you can. Your baby will benefit from it as much as from the folate and vitamins you will give him or her through your blood. La verdad, truth is, I think the secret to the success of my mom's garden is the love and care she pours on it every day.


Eating healthy is always important, but if you are planning to have a baby or are already pregnant, a balanced diet should be one of your priorities. This is not only because you will feel much better, but because once pregnant you will be the one deciding your baby's menu every day. Prenatal vitamins are a only a complement to your diet. There is nothing that can substitute for healthy nutrition. Every day you should eat fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, proteins (meats, poultry, fish or eggs) and dairy products. In Chapter 3 you will find the types of foods and portions recommended during pregnancy. If you are not pregnant yet you can start this diet, subtracting around 200 calories.

Folate or Folic Acid

Folic acid is a member of the B complex group. Our body uses folic acid to make red blood cells and proteins such as DNA. These are required for a baby to develop normally. A lack of folic acid can cause defects in what is called the fetal neural tube, which is the structure the baby's nervous system grows from. One of the most common defects produced by a lack of folic acid is spina bifida, where the spinal column is not closed at its end.

This doesn't mean that if you haven't taken folic acid before getting pregnant, your baby is going to have a defect. Millions of healthy babies have been born even though their mothers didn't take folic acid pills. But today we are aware of the causes of these birth defects, and we know that taking folic acid is one way to reduce the chance they will occur. Since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began their campaign to promote the use of folic acid a few years ago, the number of babies born with these birth defects has dropped by 19 percent.

You can find folic acid in green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and Swiss chard), citrus fruits (like oranges and lemons) and legumes (beans and lentils) as well as in fortified breakfast cereals. In its natural state, or as it's found in these foods, folic acid is called folate. Folic acid is the same vitamin, but made artificially. Our bodies process folic acid more easily than folate, and that's why it's a good idea to take it in pill form before and during your pregnancy.

The recommended dosage for women who plan to get pregnant or who are already pregnant is 400 micrograms daily (0.4 milligrams daily). Most health stores carry folic acid pills in these concentrations, but unless your doctor prescribes it, you shouldn't take more than 1,000 micrograms of folic acid a day. Along with folic acid, you can take a vitamin pill, or you can take a vitamin pill that already contains folic acid. Once you are pregnant, your doctor will prescribe a vitamin pill made especially for pregnant women.

Weight Before Pregnancy

The closer you are to your ideal weight, the easier the pregnancy will be. If you are very overweight, it's advisable to lose as much as you can before getting pregnant because you will gain weight during pregnancy. Two of the most common illnesses for Latinas during pregnancy, diabetes and hypertension, are related to obesity. Various studies show that obese Latinas suffer more complications during pregnancy than those who are at normal weight.

Being overweight doesn't mean carrying a few extra pounds, it means being excessively fat. A visit to your obstetrician/gynecologist will help you determine your health status and whether you should lose weight. For women who are under their ideal weight it is more important to put on a healthy number of pounds during the pregnancy than to gain weight beforehand.

Foods to Watch Out For

Some foods can contain bacteria or toxic substances that may not be harmful to you but can be harmful to the baby. Watch out for them before and during the entire pregnancy.

Soft Latino Cheeses

Listeria is a bacteria that lives in certain types of soft cheeses and can pass through the placenta and infect the baby.

There are a few types of Latino cheeses that can be contaminated, such as queso blanco, queso fresco, queso de hoja, queso de crema and asadero. The list also includes other cheeses such as Feta (sheep's or goat's milk cheese), Brie, Camembert or cheese with blue veins such as Roquefort or blue cheese. To destroy the bacteria you should cook these cheeses until they boil or, better yet, use hard cheeses instead.

Sometimes you can find unwrapped cheeses in some tiendas del barrio, neighborhood shops or minimarkets, sitting next to raw sausages and meats. Take a close look at where these cheeses were before you buy anything because they can be contaminated by other foods.

Ceviche and Other Raw Foods

Bacteria and parasites like raw foods. It's where they can multiply quickly without being disturbed. That's why health authorities advise women who are thinking about getting pregnant not to eat raw fish, meat, eggs or milk and juices that haven't been pasteurized. Ceviche, chorizos (cured sausages), jamon serrano (cured ham), sushi, and carpaccio are more likely to have bacteria or parasites growing in them. It's also a good idea to thoroughly wash raw vegetables before eating them.

Contaminated Fish

The Food and Drug Administration has advised pregnant women and women who are thinking about getting pregnant to avoid several types of fish: tuna, shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. These fish can have high levels of mercury, which could harm the fetus' nervous system. Although fish is an excellent source of nutrients, before and during pregnancy you should eat it just two or three times a week (see page 00).


Animal livers have a lot of vitamin A--that's good for you. But at the same time, the liver contains a lot of the hormones and antibiotics the animals are given, so it's better to limit the amount of liver you eat.

Artificial Sweeteners

Watch out for two of them: cyclamate and saccharin. Instead, sweeten your drinks with or drink sodas that contain aspartame, which is found in the brands Equal and NutraSweet. Because all these artificial sweeteners are chemical compounds, it's a good idea to use them in moderation. Don't use more than four packets of artificial sweetener a day or drink more than two artificially sweetened sodas daily.


Prepackaged meals contain a lot of preservatives (you know, those unpronounceable ingredients on the back of the box). How they exactly affect your unborn baby is not known, so the best thing to do is to avoid them.


I've got a friend who drinks seven cups of coffee a day, not American coffee but the boiled, strong coffee we Latinos like. She even drinks a cup before going to bed and she claims que duerme como un tronco, she sleeps like a log!

Not everyone is immune to caffeine; babies are definitely not. Caffeine is a stimulant that passes through the placenta, the organ that filters to your baby what you eat or drink. So you might want to start substituting decaffeinated coffee for regular or reducing the number of cups you drink every day. Some studies indicate that a couple of cups of coffee a day during pregnancy aren't harmful. Caffeine is also found in tea, chocolate, and colas as well as in Latino drinks such as mate or guaranue.


Herbal remedies are used by a lot of us Latinas; they've been proven successful over thousands of years in our cultures. But not all herbs are safe to use during pregnancy. For example, herbs that help with cramps and to regulate menstruation relax the uterus and could cause bleeding and miscarriage. There are others that stimulate contractions (see page 00).

What to Quit

Drinking, smoking or handling toxic substances is not a good idea, even if you may not have noticed any changes in your body after having a few alcoholic drinks, smoking a couple of cigarettes or using certain chemical products. But when you're thinking about getting pregnant, what might not seem harmful to you could have consequences for the baby.

Alcohol, Tobacco and Drugs

Latina women smoke less than any other ethnic group in the United States; we don't drink much either, which is very wise during pregnancy. Tobacco interferes with fetal development because it constricts the blood vessels of the placenta; as a result, the baby gets less oxygen and nutrients and grows less than it should. And the toxins found in tobacco pass through the mother's blood into the baby.

Alcohol also crosses the placenta, and if you drink regularly during pregnancy, it can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which results in a whole range of problems from birth defects to mental retardation. The same is true for drugs such as cocaine, heroin or marijuana. There is no safe amount of these drugs for the baby.


Lead is a metal found in certain products such as paint. Lead can be inhaled from things such as paint dust or it can get into your body through the foods you eat. It then accumulates in your bones.

A recent study showed the mental development of babies born to mothers with high levels of lead in their bones is slower compared to children born to mothers with significantly lower levels. In addition to mental retardation, lead can cause problems in the nervous system and in the kidneys, and some blood disorders such as anemia. Children absorb much more lead than adults.

Even though you may not currently be working with lead-based products, you may have in the past and the metal may have already accumulated in your bones. The lead level in your body is measured through a blood test, and certain treatments can help to reduce those levels. Ask your doctor for a blood test if you think that you might have been exposed to high levels of lead. The products you should take most care with are:

*Digestive remedies. Some traditional Latino products to help with digestive problems have high levels of lead in them. For example, greta, a yellow-gray powder, is nearly pure lead. Other remedies you should stay away from include alarc-n, azarc-n, coral, liga, Mar'a Luisa y rueda.

* Paints. This is the most common source of lead poisoning. In 1950 the federal government limited the amount of lead that could be added to paints, and in 1978 the levels were reduced again. Still, houses built and painted before 1950 may have high levels of lead in them. The maximum level of lead allowed today in paints is 600 ppm (parts per million). When paint begins to chip and peel away from the walls, the dust that comes along with it contains lead. You can breathe it in or perhaps get it on your hands and fingers and ingest it inadvertedly. If you think you may have high-lead paint in your house, call the telephone number in the contact list (page 00). In the meantime, don't sand, scrape or burn any of the paint because you may expose yourself to very high levels of lead. Also, vegetables grown in gardens next to houses with lead-based paints may also have absorbed the metal. You can have your soil tested for lead as well (see page 00).

* Water. The water pipes in many older houses are made of lead. When the pipes corrode, the metal begins to mix with the water that flows through them. The lead especially concentrates in the water sitting in the pipes overnight. Let the water run for about 30 seconds before you use it for the first time in the morning. You can have your water tested as well (see page 00).

* Ceramics and crystal. Some ceramic or crystal items are decorated with paints that contain lead. If the glaze on pottery appears chalky, don't use it for eating or drinking, or for storing food or cooking, because it may contain lead. In particular, acidic foods (lemons, salsas) and hot drinks can easily pick up the lead from these containers. Don't put them in the microwave oven. Take a close look at the color of the ceramics. The ones painted yellow, orange, red, green, light blue or black may have lead in them. Ceramics sold for "decoration only" should never be used for cooking.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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