Maintaining a Healthy Pregnancy

When you find out you’re pregnant, immediate questions probably come to mind: What can I eat? Can I still exercise? Are my sushi days in the past? Taking care of yourself has never been more important, but it’s not hard to learn.

Here’s how to maintain a healthy pregnancy through nutrition, vitamins, good habits, and more.

Eating a nutritious diet during pregnancy is linked to good brain development and a healthy birth weight, and can reduce 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.

A well-balanced pregnancy diet includes:

  • protein
  • vitamin C
  • calcium
  • fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • iron-rich foods
  • adequate fat
  • folic acid
  • other nutrients like choline

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.

Gaining weight while pregnant is completely natural and expected. If your weight was in a normal range before you got pregnant, The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends a weight gain of about 25 to 35 pounds.

It’s important to discuss and monitor your weight and nutritional needs with your doctor throughout your pregnancy.

Weight gain recommendations will vary for people who are underweight before conceiving, for people who have obesity, and for those with a multiple gestation pregnancy, such as twins.

To protect you and baby from a bacterial 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 and seafood.

If you or someone in your family has had a history of allergies, speak to your doctor about other foods to avoid.

Most nutrients needed during pregnancy should come from food, but prenatal vitamin supplements play an important role to fill any gaps. It’s hard to consistently plan nutritious meals every day.

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.

Choline is another vital nutrient that may help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine. Most prenatal vitamins don’t contain much or any choline so talk to your doctor about adding a choline supplement.

Moderate exercise is not only considered safe for pregnant people, it’s encouraged and thought to benefit both you and your growing baby.

ACOG recommends aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting any exercise regime, particularly if have any risk factors.

If you were not physically active before getting pregnant, talk with your doctor about what safe 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
  • increase circulation
  • decrease stress

Aerobic exercises, such as walking, light jogging, and swimming, stimulate the heart and lungs as well as muscle and joint activity, which help to process and utilize oxygen.

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. Plus, you can meet other parents for support!

Squatting and Kegel exercises should be added to the exercise routine. Kegel exercises focus on the perineal muscles. This exercise is done in the same way you stop and start the flow of urine.

The perineal muscles are tightened for a count of three, and then they’re slowly relaxed. The period of time the muscles are 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 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 your baby. It’s important to stop any tobacco smoking, drug misuse, and alcohol consumption. These have been linked to serious complications and risks for both you and your baby.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is linked with a wide range of problems in the developing baby. Any alcohol that is consumed enters the fetal bloodstream from 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 have growth deficits, such as being underweight and/or short in height, and have abnormalities in their central nervous system.

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can also lead to complications, such as:

  • miscarriage
  • premature labor and delivery
  • stillbirth

Tobacco smoking before pregnancy has started is a risk for serious harm to a developing baby. There is also 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 a risk for low birth-weight babies, which in turn is a risk for infant death and illness after delivery.

Smoking is also linked to a wide variety of pregnancy complications, including:

  • vaginal bleeding
  • ectopic pregnancy
  • premature placental detachment
  • premature labor and delivery

If you need help with any substance misuse issues, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

Besides all the expected symptoms that go along with pregnancy, pregnant women are also susceptible to certain infections, like the common cold or flu.

A pregnant woman is more likely to become very ill if she catches the flu (influenza virus). Though the flu can make you feel very unwell, it most likely will not affect your developing baby.

Some of the more common illnesses or symptoms 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 or ibuprofen, may not be recommended during certain times of a 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 all who are pregnant.

Pregnant people may be at a greater risk of developing complications from the seasonal flu virus, swine flu (H1N1), and COVID-19 (according to recent research).

Some women who have a history of asthma, especially if uncontrolled, may find that their symptoms worsen during pregnancy. This is partly due to the increasing amounts of hormones in the system.

Talk to your doctor about your health history. They can tell you whether or not there are risks to your baby’s health.

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. Set up a schedule with your healthcare providers to manage all of your symptoms and questions.

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