A woman’s 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. They’re also more likely to successfully give birth to a healthy baby.
Eating a nutritious diet during pregnancy is linked to good fetal brain development, a healthy birth weight, and it reduces the risk of many birth defects.
A balanced diet will also reduce the risks of anemia, as well as other unpleasant pregnancy symptoms such as fatigue and morning sickness. Good nutrition is thought to help balance mood swings and it may improve labor and delivery as well.
A well-balanced pregnancy diet includes:
- vitamin C
- fruits and vegetables
- whole grains
- iron-rich foods
- adequate fat
- folic acid
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. If your weight was in the normal range before you got pregnant, a weight gain of 25 to 35 pounds is recommended. It’s important to discuss and monitor your weight and nutritional needs with your 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, such as twins.
To protect mom and baby from bacteria or parasitic infection, such as Listeriosis, make sure that all milk, cheese, and juice are pasteurized. Don’t 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 or someone in your family has had a history of allergies, speak to your doctor about any foods to avoid.
Most nutrients needed during pregnancy should come from food, but prenatal vitamin supplements 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 is very important 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 such as spina bifida.
Most prenatal vitamins contain 1 milligram of folic acid. Talk to your doctor before you start taking prenatal vitamins. They can help you decide which type is best for you.
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. If you were not physically active before getting pregnant, 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
- 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 that help to build strength, improve posture and alignment, and promote better circulation and respiration.
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.
Making good lifestyle choices will directly impact the health of a growing fetus. It’s important to cut out smoking, drug use, and alcohol consumption. These have been linked to serious complications and risks for both mother and baby.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is linked 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. Drinking throughout pregnancy can result in fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that FAS can cause your baby to be underweight and have abnormalities in their central nervous system.
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can also lead to complications, such as:
- premature labor and delivery
There’s no evidence that cigarette smoking before a pregnancy has started will harm a developing baby. However, there is plenty of proof that smoking during pregnancy is hazardous. Smoking affects blood flow and oxygen delivery to a baby, and therefore their 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, like the common cold or flu. A pregnant woman 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.
Some of the more common illnesses include:
- common cold
- seasonal flu
- runny nose
- upset stomach
It’s important to talk to your doctor about treatments that are safe to use for any illnesses during pregnancy. Many common medications and supplements such as 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 should help to ensure good health. A seasonal flu shot is the best line of defense during the flu season. It’s recommended for those who 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).
Talk to your doctor about your health history. They can tell you whether or not there are risks to your baby’s health.
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 the amount of air left in your lungs after exhaling.
Attending all prenatal care checkups will help your doctor carefully monitor you and your growing baby throughout your pregnancy. It will also give you a scheduled time to ask your doctor about any concerns you’re having about your pregnancy.