Pregnancy is an ideal time to start taking really good care of yourself both physically and emotionally. If you follow the few simple guidelines below, you should give yourself the best chance of having a problem-free pregnancy and a healthy baby.
Get early prenatal care
Good prenatal care is essential for you and your baby. Call your healthcare provider right away and schedule your first prenatal visit, During that visit you’ll be screened for certain conditions that could lead to complications.
If you haven’t yet chosen a provider, get started now. Finding the right person — whether you’re looking for a doctor or a midwife — can take a while. In the meantime, let your current caregiver know if you’re taking medication or have any medical concerns.
Aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet whenever you can. Try to have:
At least five portions of fruit and vegetables daily.
Plenty of carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta and rice, as the basis of your meals. Choose wholegrain carbohydrates rather than white, so you get plenty of fibre.
Daily servings of protein, such as fish, lean meat, eggs, nuts or pulses, and some milk and dairy foods.
Two portions of fish a week, at least one of which should be oily. Fish is packed with protein, vitamin D, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the development of your baby’s nervous system.
You don’t need to eat for two when you’re pregnant. You don’t need extra calories for the first six months of pregnancy. In the last three months you’ll need about an extra 200 calories a day. You can keep up your energy levels with healthy snacks.
See our pregnancy meal planners for each trimester.
A good exercise program can give you the strength and endurance you’ll need to carry the weight you gain during pregnancy, help prevent or ease aches and pains, improve sluggish circulation in your legs, and help you handle the physical stress of labor. It will also make getting back into shape after your baby’s born much easier.
What’s more, exercise is a great way to reduce stress, and some research suggests that staying active can boost your level of serotonin, a brain chemical linked to mood.
Just remember not to push yourself too hard or let yourself get overheated or dehydrated. (You’ll also need to avoid hot tubs and saunas while you’re pregnant.)
Cut down on or cut out alcohol
Any alcohol you drink rapidly reaches your baby via your blood stream and placenta.
No one knows for sure how much alcohol it’s safe to drink while you’re pregnant. That’s why many experts advise you to cut out alcohol completely throughout pregnancy, or at least for the first three months.
If you do decide to drink, stick to no more than one or two units of alcohol, no more than once or twice a week, and never get drunk.
Drinking heavily or binge drinking during pregnancy is dangerous for your baby. Mums-to-be who drink heavily on a regular basis are more likely to give birth to a baby with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). These are problems ranging from learning difficulties to more serious birth defects.
Smoking increases the risk of miscarriage, growth problems, placental abruption, and premature delivery. Some research has even linked smoking to an increased risk of having a baby with a cleft lip or palate.
Not convinced yet? Smoking during pregnancy increases the chance that a baby will be stillborn or die in infancy. It’s never too late to quit or cut back. Every cigarette you don’t light gives your baby a better chance of being healthy. If you’re unable to quit on your own, ask your caregiver for a referral to a smoking cessation program. Even if you’re not a smoker, stay away from secondhand smoke.
Cut back on caffeine
The March of Dimes advises women to limit their caffeine consumption intake to less than 200 mg per day, an amount you could get from one 8-ounce cup of strong coffee. This recommendation came from a 2008 study showing that women who consumed that much doubled their risk of miscarriage compared to those who had no caffeine.
What’s more, caffeine has no nutritive value and makes it harder for your body to absorb iron, something pregnant women are already low on. It’s also a stimulant, so it can make it even harder for you to get a good night’s sleep, give you headaches, and contribute to heartburn.
Limit your coffee drinking or consider switching to decaf. And check the caffeine content of other products you consume, like tea, soft drinks, “energy” drinks, chocolate, and coffee ice cream, as well as over-the-counter drugs, such as headache, cold, and allergy remedies.
Take care of your emotional health
Many women feel like they’re on an emotional roller coaster at one time or another during pregnancy. But if your mood swings are extreme or interfering with your daily life, you may be suffering from depression, a relatively common condition.
If you’ve been feeling low for more than two weeks and nothing seems to lift your spirits — or if you’re feeling particularly anxious — share your feelings with your caregiver so you can get a referral for professional help.
Also let your caregiver know if you’re in an abusive relationship. Pregnancy can cause stress in any relationship, and it’s a common trigger of domestic violence, which puts your health and your baby at risk.
Eliminate environmental dangers
Some jobs can be hazardous to you and your developing baby. If you’re routinely exposed to chemicals, heavy metals (like lead or mercury), certain biologic agents, or radiation, you’ll need to make some changes as soon as possible.
Keep in mind that some cleaning products, pesticides, solvents, and lead in drinking water from old pipes can also be harmful. Talk to your doctor or midwife about what your daily routine involves, so you can come up with ways to avoid or eliminate hazards in your home and workplace.
See your dentist
Don’t forget about your oral health: Brush, floss, and get regular dental care. Hormonal shifts during pregnancy can make you more susceptible to gum disease. Increased progesterone and estrogen levels can cause the gums to react differently to the bacteria in plaque, resulting in swollen, bleeding, tender gums (gingivitis). So see your dentist for a checkup and cleaning now if you haven’t had a visit in the last six months.