Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. Many women with PCOS struggle with fertility, and once pregnant, they’re faced with higher rates of certain pregnancy complications.
The good news: you can have a healthy pregnancy with PCOS. Managing your PCOS symptoms throughout your pregnancy is the key to keeping you and your baby healthy. Check out these six nutrition and lifestyle tips to carry you through your entire pregnancy.
Strength, cardio, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) – there are so many recommended forms of exercise for women with PCOS. Finding a program that’s right for you can be difficult, especially during pregnancy.
If you were exercising before pregnancy, many experts encourage you to continue your workout program during pregnancy with a few modifications. Erika Volk, The PCOS Personal Trainer, emphasizes that guidelines for working out while pregnant vary depending on the trimester. Her recommendation during pregnancy is to focus on strength training and keep the cardio light and leisurely. If you can’t carry on a conversation while exercising, it’s time to take the intensity down a notch.
If you’re new to exercise, start with 5-10 minutes of activity and gradually increase to about 30 minutes most days of the week. Always discuss your exercise plan with your healthcare provider to make sure it’s safe for you.
Don’t Skip Meals
Nutrition plays a vital role in a healthy pregnancy – skipping meals means you’re missing out on the opportunity to fuel your body and provide your baby with essential nutrients. A consistent meal pattern also helps support healthy, stable blood sugars throughout the day.
What does a healthy meal pattern look like? Most pregnant women with PCOS should aim for three balanced meals and 2-3 snacks per day.
A regular meal pattern is easier said than done if you’re experiencing nausea or an upset stomach during pregnancy.
Pump Up Your Protein
Proteins are the building blocks of your body – they’re responsible for building, repairing, and maintaining all your tissues. So, it’s no surprise that your protein needs increase during pregnancy to help support your baby’s growth.
Adequate protein can also help promote a healthy weight and support healthy blood sugar levels, both important for pregnant women with PCOS. Try to include protein with each meal and snack to make sure you meet your needs.
Rich sources of protein include:
- Lean meats. Choose lean cuts of beef or pork, skinless poultry, or low-mercury fish. Use heart-healthy cooking methods like baking, broiling, or air-frying.
- Dairy products. Milk, yogurt, and cheese are also great sources of vitamin D and calcium to help support bone health.
- Legumes. Plant-based proteins are tasty, low in saturated fat, and packed with fiber. Consider adding some black beans, kidney beans, or chickpeas to your meals.
- Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds are another great plant-based protein option. They’re also a rich source of magnesium and iron – your requirements for both of these nutrients increase during pregnancy. Opt for a small handful of walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, or flax seeds with your afternoon snack, sprinkle on oatmeal for a nourishing breakfast, or use them to add a tasty crunch to your salads.
Fall in Love with Fiber
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate. that your body can’t digest. It passes through your digestive system relatively intact, but it still offers a multitude of benefits. For example, fiber slows down digestion, helps you feel fuller for longer, supports healthy blood sugar levels, and promotes heart health. Fiber is also food for your friendly gut bacteria and helps keep your digestive system happy.
Despite its importance, most Americans only get about half of the recommended amount of fiber each day. Pregnant women are no exception – try to aim for at least 25 grams of fiber per day.
Rich sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, and whole-wheat bread. If you have the choice between a fruit or vegetable with the skin or without – choose the skin! That’s where most of the fiber is.
If you need to increase your fiber intake, follow these simple rules:
- Start low and go slow. Add fiber foods into your diet slowly to give your body time to adjust.
- Hydrate. Fiber is tricky – too little fiber can cause constipation, but so can too much fiber without enough fluid. Constipation is already an issue for many pregnant women, so as you eat more fiber foods, make sure you drink more fluids.
You may notice that most high-fiber foods are also a rich source of carbohydrates (the kind you do digest) – don’t worry. Carbohydrates are your main fuel source, so they’re essential to give your body energy and support healthy fetal growth. Remember that fiber also helps slow down digestion and support healthy blood sugar levels, so these options are great for those with blood sugar concerns. If you’re worried about including carbohydrate foods and managing your blood sugars, talk with a registered dietitian in your area for individualized advice.
Choose Your Beverages Wisely
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends 8-12 cups (64-96 ounces) of fluid each day for pregnant women. Although water is long considered the superior hydration beverage, there are plenty of ways to meet your fluid needs.
Mix up your hydration routine with sparkling water, fruit-infused water, or 100% fruit juice (in moderation). Although 100% fruit juice is a source of natural sugars, you get more benefit from whole fruits – try to limit your juice intake to one cup (8 ounces) per day.
If you include dairy in your diet, milk is a great source of calcium and vitamin D and also contributes to your fluid needs. More research is needed to determine if there’s a link between dairy and PCOS, but the existing research suggests that full-fat dairy may be a better choice than low-fat dairy products for women with PCOS. Full-fat dairy products are higher in saturated fat, though, so it’s best to limit these choices to 1-2 servings per day.
Coffee and tea can also help you stay hydrated but be mindful of your caffeine intake during pregnancy. Limit caffeine to 200 mg or less per day – that’s about two eight-ounce cups of home-brewed coffee or four eight-ounce servings of black tea. While herbal teas don’t have any caffeine, there’s limited research on most herbal teas during pregnancy. If you’re thinking about drinking herbal teas to help you stay hydrated, make sure you discuss with your healthcare provider to make sure they’re safe.
Are there any beverages you should limit or avoid?
- Alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) emphasizes that there’s no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy.
- Sugar-sweetened beverages. These include soda, lemonade, sweet tea, and sports drinks. Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages can help you maintain healthy blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy rate of weight gain throughout pregnancy.
- Energy drinks. You may be tempted to resort to energy drinks to fend off fatigue during pregnancy, but these are typically high in both caffeine and added sugar. Check out “How to Beat Fatigue During Pregnancy” for some safe energy-boosting tips.
Surround Yourself with Support
Pregnancy and PCOS present a unique set of challenges, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Lean on your partner, family, and friends for support, and explore online groups for advice from those who share similar experiences.
Nutrition and lifestyle habits play a huge role in a healthy pregnancy, and they become even more important if you have PCOS. Be gentle with yourself and work on building one new habit at a time to set yourself up for a healthy pregnancy and beyond.