Now that you’re pregnant, taking care of yourself has never been more important. Of course, you’ll probably get advice from everyone – your doctor, family members, friends, co-workers, and even complete strangers – about what you should and shouldn’t be doing. But staying healthy during pregnancy depends on you, so it’s crucial to arm yourself with information about the many ways to keep you and your baby as healthy as possible.

Key to protecting the health of your child is to get regular prenatal care. If you think you’re pregnant, call your health care provider to schedule an appointment.

You should have your first examination during the first 6 to 8 weeks of your pregnancy, which is when your menstrual period is 2 to 4 weeks late.

If you’re healthy and there are no complicating risk factors, you can expect to see your health care provider:

  • every 4 weeks until the 28th week of pregnancy
  • then every 2 weeks until 36 weeks
  • then once a week until delivery

For most women, the surest way to have a healthy baby is to live a healthy lifestyle. The March of Dimes suggests the following precautions:

  • Get early prenatal care, even before you’re pregnant.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet, including a vitamin supplement that contains folic acid.
  • Exercise regularly with your doctor’s permission.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs, and limit caffeine.
  • Avoid x-rays, hot tubs, and saunas.
  • Avoid infections.

Getting Good Care

When it comes to medical care and pregnancy, you can never start too early.

There are lots of things you can do ahead of time, such as making sure you’re immune to rubella (German measles).

Once you’re pregnant, your health professional–either an obstetrician, family practitioner, nurse-practitioner, or nurse-midwife–will have you begin with monthly visits that increase to once a week or more at the end.

At each visit, the physician or nurse will perform a series of examinations and tests to determine the health of the mother and baby. These include measuring the growth of the uterus, listening to the baby’s heartbeat, taking the mother’s blood pressure and weight, and checking her urine for evidence of protein or sugar, which could be symptoms of complications. The care provider will ask the mother if she has any concerns or problems such as blurred vision, leg cramps, abdominal cramps, or unusual headaches. The mother may also undergo ultrasound and genetic tests during the pregnancy.

Although prenatal visits may seem simple and even mundane, their importance can’t be overestimated. Years of research have shown that pregnant women who get adequate prenatal care are more likely to have healthy babies and fewer complications during labor and recovery.

Exercise

There’s increasing medical evidence to show that exercise, even a vigorous workout, is healthy during pregnancy. An October 1998 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that exercise is usually safe during pregnancy, and that women who exercised vigorously were more likely to carry their babies to full term compared with women who exercised less or not at all.

A pregnant woman should check with her doctor before exercising, however. If she gets the OK to work out, she should do so at least three times a week for 20 minutes each time, recommends the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Walking, swimming, riding a stationary bicycle, and joining a prenatal aerobics class are all excellent exercise choices for a pregnant woman. Exercises that require jerky, bouncy movements and being outside in hot weather are not good choices. Don’t try deep knee bends, sit-ups (or any exercise that requires you to lie on your back after the first trimester), and toe touches. Other sports to avoid include downhill skiing, rock climbing, and horseback riding.

Wear a supportive bra and properly fitting athletic shoes while exercising. Stop if you feel dizzy, faint, overheated, or in pain. Drink plenty of water.

Staying in shape will help you keep up your stamina during your own impending marathon–labor! And, afterward, the more muscle mass you have, the quicker you’ll regain your pre-pregnancy shape and be able to pack away those maternity pants.

Seven principles to eating well during pregnancy

Fine-tune your diet — even if you already eat well

Almost all pregnant women need to increase their intake of protein, certain vitamins and minerals such as folic acid and iron, and calories (for energy). If your diet is poor to begin with you’ll want to make the transition to eating nutritious, well-balanced meals. Limit junk food, since it offers little more than empty calories.

But eating better doesn’t mean eating more — or rather, much more. Surprisingly, you need only about 300 calories more per day, for a total of about 2,500 calories. It’s easier than you think to get those extra calories — find out the best ways to eat for two.

Skip sushi, raw oysters, and soft cheeses, to name a few

You’ll want to steer clear of raw seafood (such as oysters or uncooked sushi), unpasteurized milk or soft cheeses (such as brie or camembert), pate, and raw or undercooked meat and poultry. (And practice good kitchen hygiene.) All are possible sources of bacteria that can harm an unborn child.

Some fish contain methyl mercury, a metal believed to be harmful in high doses to the growing brains of fetuses and young children. The FDA recommends limiting your consumption of tuna and other cooked fish to about 12 ounces a week, the equivalent of about two servings.

Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated drinks

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause physical defects, learning disabilities, and emotional problems in children, so many experts recommend that you give up alcohol for your entire pregnancy.

And you should consider cutting back or skipping caffeinated beverages. That may be a snap if you’re suddenly revolted by the stuff during your first trimester. But java junkies beware: Some studies suggest that drinking more than four cups of coffee a day can lead to miscarriage, low birth weight, and even stillbirth. Caffeine also lurks in teas, colas, other soft drinks, cocoa, and chocolate. Switch to decaf brews and decaf sodas instead.

Better still, replace these nutritional losers with healthy choices such as skim milk, 100 percent fruit juice, or water with a squeeze of lemon.

Start taking a prenatal vitamin-mineral supplement

In an ideal world — free of morning sickness or food aversions — a well-balanced diet would be all an expectant mom ever needed. But in the real world a vitamin-mineral supplement helps guarantee that you’ll get the nutrients you need. Make sure the vitamin contains 600 to 800 micrograms of folic acid. A lack of this B vitamin has been linked to neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida. Later on in your pregnancy you may need to take iron or calcium supplements to make sure you’re getting enough of these key minerals.

Strict vegetarians, and women with medical conditions such as diabetes, gestational diabetes, or anemia, as well as those with a history of low-birthweight babies, should talk with their healthcare providers about any supplements they might need.

Keep in mind that more is not always better: Avoid megadoses of vitamins and minerals; they could be harmful to your developing baby.

Don’t diet while you’re pregnant

Dieting during pregnancy is potentially hazardous to you and your developing baby. Many weight-loss regimes are likely to leave you low on iron, folic acid, and other important vitamins and minerals. Remember, weight gain is one of the most positive signs of a healthy pregnancy. Women who eat well and gain the appropriate amount of weight are more likely to have healthy babies. So if you’re eating fresh, wholesome foods and adding pounds, relax: You’re supposed to be getting bigger.

Gain weight gradually

In general, you should aim to put on between 25 and 35 pounds if you began your pregnancy at a desirable weight. If you’re underweight to begin with, you can gain a bit more (28-40 pounds); if you’re overweight at the start, your goal should be to put on a little less (15-25 pounds). If you’re short (under 5′ 2″), an adolescent, or are carrying more than one child, check with your doctor about how much weight you should gain.

When you put on weight may be as important as the total tally of pounds. You should gain the least weight during the first trimester (roughly 2 to 5 pounds total) and steadily increase, with the greatest number of pounds (roughly a pound a week) coming in the third trimester, when the baby is growing the most.

Eat small meals every four hours

Even if you’re not hungry, chances are your baby is, so try to eat at least every four hours. If nausea, food aversions, heartburn or indigestion make eating a chore, you may find that eating five or six mini meals, rather than the usual hearty three square, is easier on your body. Don’t ever skip meals. Even if you’re not hungry, your developing baby needs regular sustenance.

Treat yourself to something sweet on occasion

Processed foods, packaged snacks, and sugar-loaded desserts shouldn’t be the mainstay of your diet, but you don’t have to give up all your favorite goodies just because you’re pregnant. Some smart — and tasty — snack ideas: Try a banana smoothie, a frozen all-fruit nonfat sorbet, or yogurt-covered pretzels and trail mix. However, don’t beat yourself up if you cave in to temptation — the occasional cookie or piece of cake won’t hurt you or your baby. For more ideas, read about healthy fixes for junk food cravings.So, to sum up:

Make healthy lifestyle choices before, during, and after your pregnancy.

  • Prepare for pregnancy by eating well and taking a daily prenatal vitamin, exercising regularly, getting necessary dental work out of the way, charting your menstrual cycle, and stopping use of any potentially harmful medications or illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and excessive caffeine.
  • Maintain a healthy pregnancy by eating well, exercising regularly, getting plenty of rest, and avoiding high temperatures and activities that could lead to a fall or abdominal injury.
  • Do pelvic floor (Kegel) exercises during and after pregnancy. They strengthen your lower pelvic muscles. This may help prevent a long period of pushing during labor.7 They also may help prevent urine control problems (incontinence) after childbirth.
  • Take childbirth education classes to learn what to expect and how to best handle labor and delivery.
  • Plan ahead for breast-feeding by learning about breast-feeding and finding a good lactation consultant ahead of time; buying necessary supplies; and making advance arrangements for a private place to pump if you plan to work away from your baby after a maternity leave. For more information, see the topic Breast-Feeding.
  • And of course, ENJOY IT 🙂

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