Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy
Keeping your child safe and healthy starts before they’re even born - by keeping yourself safe and healthy. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits while you’re pregnant will give your baby the best possible start. And it can help ease some of those common worries and physical issues you may experience during or after your pregnancy. Read on to learn some tips to keep you and your baby healthy and happy.
Kick Those Unhealthy Habits before Pregnancy
Reducing risks during pregnancy can start before conception. If you take medications, make sure they are safe to take during pregnancy and switch to a safe medication if needed. Make sure your blood pressure is in a healthy range. If you smoke, quit immediately - smoking during pregnancy can lead to preterm birth, birth defects, and other complications. Reduce your blood sugar if it’s high. Address any alcohol or substance use issues.
Talk with your doctor to understand your personal health history and learn what healthy changes you can make before you get pregnant.
Take a Prenatal Vitamin
Prenatal vitamins provide the key nutrients you will need when trying to conceive, during pregnancy, and while breastfeeding. During pregnancy, your body requires higher levels of nutrients including iron, calcium, vitamin B, vitamin A, vitamin C, and DHA. One of the most important nutrients in a prenatal vitamin is folic acid. When taken before pregnancy, prenatal vitamins with folic acid can greatly reduce the chance of neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. They have also been shown to reduce the risk of low birth weight, cleft lip and cleft palate, iron deficiency anemia, preeclampsia, calcium deficiency and preterm delivery.
You should start taking prenatal vitamins a few months before trying to conceive to ensure you have enough nutrients.
Get Regular Exercise
Getting regular exercise during pregnancy can help improve some of the discomforts of pregnancy, strengthen your muscles to prepare for labor and delivery, and help you recover from childbirth faster. It can also reduce stress, help manage your weight gain, improve circulation, boost your energy and mood, and help you sleep better.
Aim for 20 to 30 minutes of exercise every day. Pilates, yoga, swimming, and walking are great activities for most pregnant women and some centers offer specific pregnancy exercise classes.
Make sure to not overdo it and to choose exercises that are safe for you. Stop your workout if you become tired, can't catch your breath, feel dizzy, feel pain, have a headache, or begin to feel contractions. Speak with your doctor about what types of exercise would be best for you.
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Drink More Water
During pregnancy, your blood volume increases up to 50 percent to supply oxygen and nutrients to your baby through the placenta and to carry away waste. Drinking water is vital in supporting that increased volume. Aim to drink at least eight to ten glasses of water every day.
In addition, drinking more water can also help alleviate some of the uncomfortable symptoms of pregnancy, such as constipation, hemorrhoids, urinary tract infections, fatigue, headaches, and swelling.
Have a Healthy Diet - and Know What Foods to Avoid
During pregnancy, having a healthy diet is vital. To help support your baby’s growth, you’ll need to eat an additional 300 to 500 calories a day, starting in your second trimester. Try eating five or six well-balanced meals throughout the day. Folate-rich foods, such as fortified cereals and breads, asparagus, lentils, oranges and orange juice, strawberries, spinach, broccoli, and beans, are especially important for the development of the baby’s neural tube. Eat high-fiber foods, like whole-grain cereals, brown rice, vegetables, fruits, and beans, to help prevent constipation. A healthy diet of fruits and vegetables; whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole-grain bread, and brown rice; calcium-rich foods like dairy and soy, and protein from healthy sources, such as beans and peas, eggs, lean meats, unsalted seeds and nuts, and seafood that is low in mercury will greatly benefit your pregnancy.
However, avoiding certain foods is just as important during pregnancy. Avoid foods that can carry bacteria and cause illness like soft cheeses made from unpasteurized or raw milk; raw cookie dough; undercooked meats, eggs, and seafood; and deli salads. Avoid fish high in mercury like swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish, and eat no more than 12 ounces of fish per week.
Know What Substances to Avoid
Smoking, vaping, tobacco use, or being exposed to secondhand smoke is very dangerous to your baby with links to birth defects, miscarriage, preterm birth, and other complications. If you smoke, you should quit immediately, and avoid being around others smoking or using tobacco products. Alcohol can also harm the baby and should be avoided throughout pregnancy. Illicit drug use can seriously harm both you and your baby and should be stopped even prior to pregnancy.
Most doctors recommend limiting the amount of caffeine during pregnancy. Limit caffeine to less than 200 mg per day - the amount in about 12 ounces of coffee.
Solvents such as paint thinners, nail polish remover, household cleaners, and other harsh chemicals can have harmful effects on your baby. If you are decorating a nursery, avoid the fumes from paint and wallpaper as much as possible.
Certain chores may need to be avoided as well. Any tasks that involve heavy lifting, climbing on step stools or ladders, standing for long periods of time, or changing kitty litter should be taken off your to-do list.
Tell any medical professionals that you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant to avoid exposure to any potentially harmful tests and chemicals.
Get Rest and Relaxation When You Can
Getting enough rest and relaxation can help improve your mood, manage mood swings, and reduce stress throughout your pregnancy. Aim to get at least eight hours of sleep every night. This may be especially hard during the third trimester when it’s more difficult to get comfortable. Take naps during the day when you can, especially if you’re struggling to sleep at night.
Practice daily relaxation techniques, such as yoga, stretching, deep breathing, or massages. Yoga and meditation can be especially helpful in reducing anxiety. Try a free meditation app online. See if you can find a pregnancy yoga class in your area.
Annual gynecologic exams are among the most important ways for women to receive preventive health screening and education.
Know When to Call Your Doctor
It can be hard to tell during pregnancy what is a serious concern and what isn’t - especially if it's your first pregnancy. It’s important to pay attention to any changes or different feelings. Call your doctor if you experience:
- Pain of any kind
- Strong cramps
- Decreased movement or activity in the baby
- Contractions at 20-minute intervals
- Vaginal bleeding or leaking fluid
- Dizziness or fainting
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Frequent nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty walking
- Edema or joint swelling
Continue to Get Care after Your Pregnancy
Most women are instructed to have a six-week postpartum visit, but many need follow up care in the first few days and weeks after delivery - especially those who had a high risk pregnancy, complications during birth, or pregnancy-related conditions, such as preeclampsia. Medical complications can still occur postpartum. It’s important to be aware of the risks, and follow up with your provider to treat postpartum preeclampsia, infections and other medical complications.
You may also notice your mood or behavior change after giving birth as you deal with the stresses and challenges that come with caring for a newborn. Taking care of your mental health and ensuring you have support is important in keeping you - and your baby - healthy and happy. Speak with your doctor if you notice feelings of depression, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, excessive fatigue, or frequent mood changes. Therapy, a support group, or medication may help you cope with these emotional changes.
Stay in contact with your obstetrician or midwife to address any concerns or symptoms you may have, and to ensure a healthy transition into your exciting new role as parent.