A woman’s good health is essential to the good health of her baby. Women who eat well and exercise regularly along with regular prenatal care, are less likely to have complications during pregnancy, and are more likely to give birth successfully to a healthy baby.
What you eat during pregnancy could give your developing baby the healthiest possible start in life. A nutritional diet is directly linked to a higher chance of a normal birth-weight, improving fetal brain development, and reducing the risk of many birth defects.
A balanced diet will also reduce the risks of pregnancy complications, such as anemia and may also minimize morning sickness, fatigue, and other unpleasant pregnancy symptoms. Good nutrition is also thought to help balance mood swings and may improve labor and delivery.
As a general rule, a well-balanced diet including protein, vitamin C, calcium, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, iron-rich foods, and adequate fat will help to ensure the health of mom and baby throughout the nine months of pregnancy. A simple way to satisfy your nutritional needs during pregnancy is to eat a variety of foods from each of the food groups every day.
Many women are concerned about how much weight they will gain during pregnancy. It’s important to maintain a healthy weight gain. If your weight was in the normal range before you got pregnant, a weight gain of 25-35 pounds is recommended. It’s important for a woman to discuss and monitor her weight and nutritional needs with her doctor throughout the pregnancy. Weight gain recommendations will vary for women who are underweight before conceiving, for those who are obese, and for those with a multiple pregnancy (twins etc.).
To protect mom and baby from bacteria or parasitic infection (Listeriosis), make sure that all milk, cheese, and juice are pasteurized. Do not eat meat from the deli counter or hot dogs unless they are thoroughly heated. Also avoid refrigerated, smoked seafood and undercooked meat, poultry, and seafood. If you have had a history of allergies, it is advised that you speak to your doctor about any foods to avoid.
While the majority of nutrients needed during pregnancy should come from food, prenatal vitamin supplements do play an important role. Pregnant women are often too busy to plan three nutrient-filled meals every day, and a vitamin supplement can provide the extra nutrition that the developing fetus needs.
Folic acid (folate) is a B vitamin that has been found to be a very important supplement for pregnant women. Folic acid supplements taken several weeks prior to pregnancy and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy have been found to lower the risk of having a child with a neural tube defect by approximately 75 percent.
Most prenatal vitamins contain one milligram of folic acid and may be used as a source of folic acid. It’s important to talk to your doctor before taking a prenatal supplement.
Moderate exercise is not only considered safe for pregnant women, it’s encouraged and thought to benefit both mom and growing baby. Exercising 30 minutes a day is proven to help circulation, strengthen muscles, and decrease stress. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting any exercise regime, particularly if you are in a high-risk category. For women who were not physically active before getting pregnant it is important to talk with your doctor about what exercise you can do during your pregnancy.
For the majority of normal pregnancies, exercise can increase energy levels, improve sleep, strengthen muscles and endurance, reduce backaches, and relieve constipation. Aerobic exercises, such as walking, jogging and swimming, stimulate the heart and lungs as well as muscle and joint activity which help to process and utilize oxygen. Aerobic activity also improves circulation, and increases muscle tone and strength.
There are many exercise classes designed specifically for pregnant women, such as yoga, that help to build strength, improve posture and alignment, and promote better circulation and respiration. Yoga is also thought to release tension and anxiety, and help women to stay focused and relaxed.
Squatting and Kegel exercises should be added to the exercise routine. Kegel exercises focus on the vaginal and perineal muscles. The exercise is done in the same way a woman stops and starts the flow of urine. The perineal muscle is tightened for a count of three and then the muscle is slowly relaxed. The period of time the muscle is contracted can be increased over time as muscle control becomes easier. Relaxing the perineal muscles can help during the birth of the baby. Kegel exercises are thought to help women maintain good muscle tone and control in the perineal area which can aid in delivery and recovery after birth.
Healthy lifestyle choices will directly impact the health of a growing fetus. It’s important to cut out bad habits, such as smoking and alcohol consumption. These have been linked to serious complications and risks for both mother and baby.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is associated with a wide range of problems in the developing baby. Any alcohol that is consumed by the mother enters the fetal bloodstream in approximately the same concentrations as in the mother’s bloodstream. Heavy drinking throughout pregnancy can result in fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) which produces infants that are underweight, mentally deficient, with multiple deformities, and a high mortality rate.
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can also lead to complications including:
- premature labor and delivery
- low birth weight
- abnormal growth
- developmental problems in childhood
While there’s no evidence that any cigarette smoking done before a pregnancy has started will harm a developing baby, there is plenty of proof that smoking during pregnancy is hazardous. Smoking affects blood flow and oxygen delivery to a baby, affecting growth.
Cigarette smoking is the single most common cause of low birth-weight babies, which in turn is the most common cause of death and illness in the first few weeks of life. Smoking is also linked to a wide variety of pregnancy complications, including:
- vaginal bleeding
- ectopic pregnancy
- premature placental detachment
- premature labor and delivery
Besides all of the symptoms that go along with pregnancy, pregnant women are more susceptible to certain infections, particularly viruses, such as the common cold or flu. A pregnant women is more likely to become very ill if she catches a cold or flu. Though such illnesses can make you feel very unwell, most will not affect your developing baby.
- common cold
- seasonal flu
- stomach bug
It is important to talk to your doctor about treatments that are safe to use for any illnesses during pregnancy. Medications and supplements that are routinely used to treat aches and pains, the common cold or flu, including aspirin and ibuprofen, are not recommended during pregnancy.
Prevention is the best way to avoid getting sick. A healthy diet and exercise, as well as plenty of rest and good hand-washing or use of hand sanitizer should help to ensure good health. A seasonal flu shot is the best line of defense during the flu season, and it is recommended for those that will be in their second or third trimester during this time. Pregnant women are at a much greater risk of developing complications from both the seasonal flu virus, as well as from swine flu (H1N1).
There are some illnesses during pregnancy that require more medical attention. Talk to your doctor if you have a history of genital herpes, as there are implications if you have an outbreak close to your due date.
Some women who have a history of asthma may find that their symptoms worsen during pregnancy. This is partly due to the increasing amounts of hormones in the system, as well as the enlarging uterus which presses up against the lungs and restricts residual capacity—the amount of air left in your lungs after exhaling.
Pregnant women suffering with asthma have a greater chance of developing preeclampsia, and it may cause premature delivery or birth defects to the baby. With good treatment, asthma can be successfully controlled during pregnancy.