Congratulations on your pregnancy! Now that you’re expecting, it’s time to shift your focus from how to prepare your body for pregnancy to how to support a healthy pregnancy. After all, healthy moms are more likely to give birth to healthy babies.
With all the information available to new moms, it can be confusing to figure out what’s most important. All of the different approaches to a healthy pregnancy leave moms-to-be questioning every move. When should you see your doctor? What prenatal vitamins are most important? Can you keep exercising the same way you used to? What about coffee and sushi? And…wine?
In this article, learn 10 of the best ways to support a healthy pregnancy. Be sure to 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, and more. At this visit, your healthcare provider can answer all your questions and ease any concerns you may have about pregnancy.
The schedule for prenatal visits may vary slightly from provider to provider. But typically, you’ll visit your OB-GYN:
- Every four weeks for the first 28 weeks
- Every two to three weeks between 28 and 36 weeks
- Weekly after 36 weeks
Make sure you choose an OB-GYN who fits your needs – one that you trust with your pregnancy, that listens to your concerns, that respects your birth plan, and that makes you feel safe.
2. Start taking prenatal vitamins.
You’re responsible for nourishing your body and your little one during pregnancy, so it’s no surprise that your nutrient needs increase a little bit during this time. In addition to a balanced diet, a high-quality prenatal multivitamin and mineral supplement can help you get the extra nutrients you and your baby need during pregnancy.*
There are many different prenatal supplements on the market – sometimes it feels overwhelming. Be sure you choose one that’s easy for you to swallow and tolerate well. A high-quality prenatal should contain adequate doses of the following nutrients:*
- Vitamin D3 promotes a healthy vitamin D level, which is essential for a healthy pregnancy.*
- Folate/Folic acid supports healthy neural tube development.*
- DHA supports a healthy full-term pregnancy and promotes your baby’s brain and eye development.*
- Choline promotes your baby’s brain and spinal cord development.*
- Vitamin B6 may help reduce upset stomach related to pregnancy.*
- Iodine supports healthy thyroid function, as well as brain and nerve development.*
- Iron supports increased blood production, which is especially important during the second and third trimesters to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your little one.*
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 what’s in the product matches what’s on the Supplement Facts Panel.
Many moms-to-be experience upset stomach, especially during the first trimester. Some women worry that prenatal vitamins may make their symptoms worse. Taking your prenatal vitamin with a meal can help support tolerance while you get the nutrients you need to support a healthy pregnancy.
3. Eat a variety of healthy pregnancy foods.
Variety in your diet is the key to make sure you meet your nutrient needs during pregnancy. A healthy pregnancy diet includes:
- Fruit: Fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients (plant nutrients) that keep your body functioning properly. Choose any kind of fruit you like – fresh or frozen. Apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, and melons are all excellent choices. If you frequently experience heartburn symptoms, you may want to limit acidic fruits, like oranges, lemons, limes, and pineapple.
- Vegetables: Like fruits, vegetables are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Aim to eat a colorful variety of vegetables. Leafy greens, bell peppers, eggplant, squash, carrots, mushrooms, and any other vegetable you enjoy can have a place on your plate.
- Whole grains: Whole grains are rich in important B vitamins. Plus, they’re high in fiber, which helps support gut health and satiety. Bread, brown rice, and other whole grains such as barley, oats, couscous, and cracked wheat are good choices.
- Lean proteins include milk, nuts, seeds, tofu, beans, and lean meats, such as chicken, turkey, fish, and lean pork. Proteins are the building blocks for all the cells in your body, and your protein needs increase a little during pregnancy to support your little one’s growth and development.*
- Healthful fats include extra-virgin olive oil, walnuts, almonds, and avocados.
If you find yourself lacking in one of these areas, consult a registered dietitian or nutrition professional about food substitutions you can make to meet your nutrient needs.
While you can still indulge in your favorite treats and snacks, try to limit foods high in added sugars and/or saturated fats, like soda, sweets, and fried snacks to support healthy weight gain during pregnancy.
4. Participate in regular exercise during pregnancy.
In general, if you were physically active before getting pregnant, you can continue your usual workout routine – sometimes with a few modifications. Talk about your exercise plan with your healthcare provider to make sure it’s still safe for you and your baby during pregnancy.
If you weren’t an avid exerciser before pregnancy, that’s okay – just start slow. The CDC recommends that healthy pregnant women get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week. So, gradually work up to 20-30 minutes of physical activity 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. Be sure to keep your healthcare provider in the loop so you can make any adjustments to your workout regimen as needed.
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 (e.g. ice hockey, boxing, soccer, and basketball)
- Activities that may result in a fall (e.g. skiing, water skiing, surfing, mountain biking, gymnastics, horseback riding)
- “Hot yoga” or “hot Pilates”
- 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, and your 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, follow this 4-step process for food safety:
- 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 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 — this is where bacteria grow best. Discard high-risk foods (meats, cheese, and other perishable 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 leftover 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 keep on their radar:
- Listeria is a bacteria that can be harmful for you and your baby. Foods at higher risk for listeria contamination include hot dogs and luncheon meats, soft cheese such as feta, brie, and camembert (unless made with pasteurized milk), smoked seafood, and raw milk.
- Methylmercury is found in certain fish and the environment. It can be harmful to your baby’s nervous system. Bigger, predatory fish, like shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish are typically higher in mercury, so it’s a good idea to avoid 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 is a dangerous parasite found in undercooked meats (such as raw sushi fish or rare hamburger meat), unwashed fruits and vegetables, and cat-litter boxes.
6. Reduce caffeine intake.
Coffee and tea lovers, rejoice! You don’t have to give up your morning pick-me-up during pregnancy. Still, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends limiting caffeine to 200 mg per day.
An average 8 oz. cup of home-brewed coffee contains approximately 90 mg of caffeine, but keep in mind that coffee shop brews may have much more. An 8-oz cup of black tea contains about 45 mg of caffeine. Watch out for sneaky sources of caffeine, too, like chocolate and soda. Keep tabs on your caffeine intake with this caffeine chart.
Interested in learning more about caffeine and pregnancy? Check out this blog next: “Caffeine and Pregnancy: What’s Safe?”
7. Stop smoking & drinking alcohol.
Smoking during pregnancy carries some risks for you and your little one. So, if you smoke, one of the most beneficial things you can do for your baby’s health is to quit as soon as possible. If you are pregnant and want to quit smoking, there are many resources to help you. It is never too late to quit smoking – there are benefits to quitting at any stage of your pregnancy.
It’s also important to avoid alcohol during pregnancy to support a healthy pregnancy. Consider mixing up a mocktail to enjoy next time you’re out to dinner with your partner or splurging on a night out with your girlfriends.
8. Gain a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy.
Although weight gain is a healthy part of pregnancy, the cliché that a pregnant woman should be “eating for two” has long been debunked. Here’s how your calorie needs actually change during pregnancy:
- The first trimester does not require any extra calories.
- The second trimester requires an extra 340 calories per day.
- The third trimester requires an additional 450 calories per day.
Those extra calories give your body the energy it needs to help your baby grow and thrive. But how much weight do you need to gain? Well, your pre-pregnancy weight helps determine how much weight you should gain during pregnancy – some women need to gain a little more weight to support a healthy pregnancy, while others may need to gain a little less. Make sure you talk with your doctor about your individual weight gain goals during pregnancy. But in the meantime, take a look at this blog for more information.
9. Get plenty of rest.
Getting rest 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 struggle long before their due date.
Discomfort, aches, and the frequent urge to use the bathroom may make it hard to get your usual 8 hours per night. But there are some strategies expectant moms can try to support healthy sleep patterns during pregnancy.
- Develop a consistent bedtime routine.
- Try relaxing activities, like a bubble bath, aromatherapy, or meditation.
- Limit large amounts of liquid close to bedtime if you find yourself making multiple trips to the bathroom overnight.
- Use extra pillows to help you achieve a comfortable sleeping position.
10. Take it one day at a time.
For some, pregnancy feels like it’s stretching on forever. But when it’s all said and done, you’ll look back and realize just how fast the past nine months flew by. Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate the miracle of pregnancy every single day, but make sure you take it all in – treasure each kick, document your baby bump progress, and enjoy extra time with your partner before you welcome your little one to your family. Pregnancy is like no other time in your life, and soon you will be caring for a special bundle of joy. But 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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