With all the information available to new moms, it can be confusing to figure out what is most important. All of the different approaches to a healthy pregnancy leave moms-to-be questioning every move. When do I need to see my doctor? What prenatal vitamins are most important? Can I keep exercising the same way I used to? What about coffee and sushi? And…wine?
Fortunately, a lot of the same things you may have been doing to get fit for pregnancy still apply throughout your pregnancy.
In this article, we share 10 of the best ways to have a healthy pregnancy. Please check with your healthcare provider before making any changes to your health plan.
1. See your healthcare provider early and often.
As soon as you think you might be pregnant, you should schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN or midwife.
Your first prenatal visit will probably be around eight weeks after your last menstrual period. The first visit may be one of the longest. It typically includes a complete physical examination, ultrasound, medical history, blood draw. At this visit, your healthcare provider will likely discuss important information about what you can expect. Your provider will answer any questions you may have.
The schedule for prenatal visits may vary slightly from provider to provider. However, the common frequency of prenatal appointments is:
- Every 4 weeks for the first 28 weeks
- Every 2 to 3 weeks between 28 and 36 weeks
- Weekly after 36 weeks
Make sure you choose a healthcare provider who fits your needs. He or she will be guiding you through one of the most special times in your life. You should feel comfortable discussing every aspect of your pregnancy with them.
If you are unsure about whether or not your health care provider is whom you want delivering your baby, you can interview some different options. Choose the provider who best first your needs.
2. Start taking prenatal vitamins.
One of the first things your healthcare provider will probably discuss with you is the need to take prenatal vitamins. A high-quality prenatal multivitamin and mineral supplement can help you to get the extra nutrients that you and your baby need during pregnancy.
There are many different prenatal supplements on the market. It is important to find one that is easy for you to swallow, and that you tolerate well. A high-quality prenatal should contain the following:
- Vitamin D3 (2,000 – 4,000 IU): Promotes a normal vitamin D level, which is important for a healthy pregnancy. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to various pregnancy complications.
- Folate/Folic Acid (1,000 mcg): Reduces risk of neural tube defects
- DHA (250 – 300 mg): Reduces risk of preterm labor and promotes baby’s brain and eye development
- Choline (100 – 300 mg): Promotes baby’s brain development
- Vitamin B6 (30 – 75 mg): May reduce morning sickness
- Iodine (150 – 220 mcg): Supports thyroid function, brain, and nerve development
- Iron (18 – 27 mg): Keeps iron stores adequate, prevents anemia (the higher dose is important during the second and third trimesters)
- Biotin (30 mcg): Helps meet increased needs during pregnancy
Because the quality of prenatal vitamins can vary, you should also look for USP or NSF certified prenatal vitamins. These third-party certifications guarantee that supplements are free from contaminants and that the contents are accurate and pure.
Many moms-to-be experience morning sickness throughout the first trimester. Some women worry that prenatal vitamins may make their symptoms worse.
Dr. Stephen Greenhouse of Shady Grove Fertility writes that if you experience side effects from prenatal vitamins such as nausea, for example, you can try to take them after dinner or closer to bedtime.
3. Eat a variety of healthy pregnancy foods.
Expectant moms need to eat a variety of foods every day, in addition to their prenatal vitamins. A healthy pregnancy diet consists of:
- Fruits: Apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, and melons are nutrient-dense choices (rich in vitamins and nutrients and low in calories). Acid can cause heartburn some pregnant women. Therefore, you may want to eat fewer acidic fruit such as oranges, lemons, limes, and pineapple.
- Vegetables: Aim to eat a variety of vegetables. Leafy greens, bell peppers, eggplant, squash, and mushrooms are excellent choices.
- Whole grains: Whole grain bread, brown rice, and other whole grains such as barley, oats, couscous and cracked wheat are good choices.
- Lean protein from both plant-based and animal-based sources: Include milk, nuts, seeds, tofu, beans, and lean meats such as chicken without skin, turkey, fish and lean pork.
- Healthful fats: Extra-virgin olive oil, walnuts, almonds, and avocados are good choices.
If there are healthy foods you cannot or choose not to eat, you may have difficulty meeting your increased daily nutritional requirements during pregnancy. If that’s the case, consult a registered dietitian or nutrition professional about food substitutions you can make to meet your needs.
Eating too many sugars or fats during pregnancy can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Cut down on foods like soda, sweets, and fried snacks, and drink plenty of water.
4. Practice healthy exercise for pregnancy.
In general, if you were physically active before getting pregnant, you can remain moderately physically active throughout your pregnancy. In fact, the CDC recommends that healthy pregnant women get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week. So, you should be exercising for 20-30 minutes most days of the week.
Examples of great workouts for pregnant women include walking, swimming, riding a stationary bicycle, aerobics, and modified yoga or pilates. If you were an experienced runner before pregnancy, you could safely continue to run or jog throughout most of your pregnancy. You may need to cut back later in the third trimester.
While pregnant, it is a good idea to steer clear of any physical activity that may put you or your baby at risk. Examples of exercise NOT to do while pregnant include:
- Contact sports and sports that put you at risk of getting hit in the abdomen. These activities include ice hockey, boxing, soccer, and basketball.
- Activities that may result in a fall. These activities include downhill skiing, water skiing, surfing, off-road cycling, gymnastics, and horseback riding
- “Hot yoga” or “hot Pilates,” which may cause you to become overheated
- Scuba diving
- Activities performed above 6,000 feet (if you do not already live at a high altitude)
5. Be aware of food safety.
While you are pregnant, you and your baby are at higher risk for foodborne illnesses. During pregnancy, your body is less able to fight off microbial attacks. A baby’s developing immune system is not yet strong enough to resist an attack.
To minimize your exposure to bacteria that can cause foodborne illness, FoodSafety.gov recommends the following 4-step process:
- Clean: Wash your hands, cooking equipment, countertop and cutting boards both before and after handling.
- Separate: Keep raw meats separate from ready-to-eat foods. Thoroughly wash cutting boards and plates after they have raw foods on them and before placing any other foods on the same surface.
- Cook: Cook foods thoroughly. Beware of food kept in the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F, where bacteria grow best. Discard high-risk foods (meats and other moist protein-containing foods) left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Chill: Keep your refrigerator below 40°F, and the freezer below 0°F. Toss perishable foods if you cannot eat them within a few days. If in doubt, throw it out.
There are three additional food safety issues pregnant women should be aware of:
- Listeria: Found refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods and unpasteurized milk, cheese, and milk Examples of high-risk foods for listeria include hot dogs and luncheon meats, soft cheese such as feta, brie, and camembert (unless made with pasteurized milk), smoked fish, and raw milk.
- Methylmercury: Found in certain fish and the environment. It can be harmful to your baby’s nervous system. The fish highest in mercury are shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish. You should not eat these fish during pregnancy.
Eating up to 12 ounces each week of low-mercury fish and shellfish (salmon, shrimp, canned light tuna, pollock, and catfish) is healthy during pregnancy. When choosing a DHA-containing prenatal vitamin (from fish oil), make sure it is independently tested and certified to be free of mercury and other contaminants.
- Toxoplasma: This dangerous parasite is found in undercooked meats (such as raw sushi fish or rare hamburger meat), unwashed fruits and vegetables, and cat-litter boxes.
A helpful pregnancy food-guide from Sally Kuzemchak, RD (Real Mom Nutrition) categorizes foods based on the stoplight system. Foods you should avoid get a “red-light.” Foods you should take caution with are considered “yellow-light” foods. “Green-light” foods are safe for pregnant women.
6. Reduce caffeine intake.
The good news is that you do not need to stop drinking your morning cup of coffee! The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology says that pregnant women can have up to 200 mg of caffeine a day.
When calculating your total caffeine intake, don’t forget some of the most surprising sources of caffeine. For example, decaffeinated coffee contains 20 mg of caffeine per cup. Other sneaky sources of caffeine include chocolate (10 – 60 mg) and ice cream (30 – 45 mg for coffee flavor).
7. Stop smoking & drinking alcohol.
If you are a smoker, one of the most important things you can do for the health of your baby is to quit as soon as possible. According to the CDC, smoking while pregnant can cause tissue damage on the unborn child. Moreover, smoking puts mothers at increased risk of miscarriage and pre-term delivery. Smoking also leads to greater risk for low birth-weight babies.
If you are pregnant and want to quit smoking, there are many resources out there to help you. It is never too late to quit smoking. There are benefits to quitting smoking at any stage of your pregnancy.
You must also stop drinking alcohol during pregnancy. According to the March of Dimes, drinking alcohol during pregnancy can be problematic for the health of your baby. Drinking alcohol during any stage of your pregnancy makes your baby more likely to be born prematurely. Mothers who drink are at risk for babies with congenital disabilities or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).
8. Gain the right amount of weight to have a healthy pregnancy.
Maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy is important for you and your baby. Obesity during pregnancy has been linked to higher risk of gestational diabetes, hypertension, cesarean delivery, neural tube defects, and childhood obesity.
You can manage these risk by gaining enough, but not too much, weight during pregnancy.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) sets healthy weight gain guidelines for pregnancy based on your body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy. BMI is a measure of weight to height. If you are underweight before becoming pregnant, you should gain more weight during pregnancy. However, if you were overweight before pregnancy, you need to gain less.
Below is the IOM’s table for healthy weight guidelines during pregnancy:
Pregnant women need between 2,200 and 2,900 calories, with more calories needed as your pregnancy progresses.
The cliche that a pregnant woman should be “eating for two” has long been debunked. The American Dietetic Association breaks down how many more calories a pregnant woman needs during each trimester as follows:
- The first trimester does not require extra calories
- The second trimester requires an extra 350 calories per day
- The third trimester requires an extra 450 calories per day
9. Get plenty of rest.
This may be easier said than done. Most moms-to-be expect sleepless nights to start after the baby is born. Unfortunately, many feel the sleep deprivation long before their due date.
The most obvious reason for the lack of sleep is the increasing size of your baby bump. Your growing bump can make finding a comfortable position difficult. Healthcare providers recommend that pregnant women sleep lying on their side. However, this sleep position may be uncomfortable for women used to sleeping on their stomach or back.
Some other reasons for trouble sleeping during pregnancy include the frequent urge to use the bathroom, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, leg cramps, backaches, and heartburn and constipation.
There are some strategies expectant moms can use for better sleep during pregnancy. For example, you should make sure you get the right amount of exercise and reduce stress and anxiety. Getting into a relaxing bedtime routine can help calm your nerves before bed. If heartburn is a problem, try staying upright for an hour or two after a meal. You can also try eating more bland foods in the evening.
10. Enjoy the ride!
It feels like there is so much to worry about before your little arrival. Please remember to enjoy it while you can!
The wise mamas over at LifeAsMama.com summarize the things you’ll miss about pregnancy as soon as your baby arrives. Baby kicks, a cute baby bump, and loving your body are just a few of the joys you’ll miss once your little one arrives.
Pregnancy is like no other time in your life, and soon you will have a special bundle of joy to care for.
For now, the best thing you can do is to take care of yourself so that you can give your little one the best possible start in life.
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