“Giving birth and being born brings us into the essence of creation, where the human spirit is courageous and bold and the body, a miracle of wisdom.”
This meaningful quote by Harriette Hartigan eloquently summarizes the beauty of being pregnant. Pregnancy brings a new meaning to your life and the feeling of carrying a little soul within you is magnificent.
During pregnancy, your every decision will impact your physical and emotional well-being as well as the baby growing inside you.
This is the time when you need to take care of yourself, and you need the support of your partner and other close friends and relatives.
More importantly, you need the guidance of an experienced doctor. Choose a doctor who will be able to assist you, guide you and help build your confidence for pregnancy and childbirth.
Also, read books, attend pregnancy classes and watch videos about pregnancy and childbirth. There are many things that can help you enjoy a problem-free pregnancy and enter motherhood with new confidence.
Here are the top 10 tips for maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
1. Opt for a Balanced Diet
The foods you eat during pregnancy have a direct influence on the health of the unborn baby. According to experts, a healthy diet is a must during pregnancy.
A healthy diet supports normal birth-weight, improves fetal brain development and lowers the risk of many birth defects.
It also reduces the risk of pregnancy complications like anemia, morning sickness and fatigue.
A 2014 study published in Nature Communications reported that a mother’s diet around the time of conception can permanently influence her baby’s DNA.
You don’t need to eat for two when you are pregnant, but you do need to focus on eating healthy. A pregnant woman’s diet should include plenty of nuts, vegetables, fruits and fresh fish to help your body get protein, vitamin C, calcium, iron and adequate fat.
Try to have five portions of fruits and vegetables daily, plenty of carbohydrates from whole-grain products, one serving of protein and two servings of fish a week.
Along with proper foods, drink lots of water and choose real fruit juices and skim milk instead of sodas to keep your body hydrated. Also, avoid coffee and switch to green tea.
2. Take Necessary Supplements
To fulfill a pregnant body’s need for nutrients, you also need to take some supplements. You can take iron or folic acid supplements separately or opt for prenatal vitamins.
Prenatal vitamins typically contain more folic acid and iron than other multivitamins. Folic acid is necessary to prevent neural tube defects, and iron supports the baby’s overall growth.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that use of prenatal folic acid supplements around the time of conception lowers the risk of autistic disorders in babies.
Another study published in the BMJ in the same year reports that daily prenatal use of iron substantially improved birth weight and reduced the risk of low birth weight.
Some doctors even recommend calcium and vitamin D supplements during the third trimester for proper bone development in babies. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements also can promote a baby’s brain development.
However, remember that while supplements are important for you and the baby growing in your womb, they are not a substitute for a balanced diet.. Also, always consult your doctor before taking supplements.
3. Avoid Certain Foods
To protect yourself and your unborn baby from bacteria or parasitic infections, you need to avoid certain foods. The hormonal changes in the body cause food cravings, but you need to be sure about what you are eating.
Certain foods contain potentially toxic ingredients that can pose a threat to your health and cause birth complications in your baby.
Some of the foods that are best to avoid during pregnancy are unpasteurized milk, undercooked ready-to-eat meals, any kind of soft cheese, undercooked meat, raw eggs, fish high in mercury and raw sprouts. Also avoid refrigerated, smoked seafood.
A 2010 study published in the Canadian Family Physician stresses food safety for the pregnant woman and the fetus, as they might be more susceptible to some food-borne illnesses with serious consequences.
Pregnant women should ensure that their food is obtained from reputable establishments, cooked properly and consumed within a couple of days of purchasing.
Just like foods, you need to be attentive to food hygiene. It is especially important during pregnancy to reduce the risk of getting an infection. Any kind of infectious disease at this crucial stage can harm the health of your baby, too.
To maintain proper food hygiene, thoroughly wash utensils, cutting boards and your hands after handling raw poultry; wash fruits and vegetables well in running water to remove soil or dirt; and always choose organic food products.
4. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise during pregnancy ensures proper health of the mother as well as the newborn. Exercise helps alleviate many common pregnancy problems, such as constipation, leg cramps, swelling of the ankles, back pain and poor sleep.
It also helps keep your energy level high to make it through the pregnancy period.
Plus, physical activity prepares new mothers for childbirth. A fit body can result in a shorter labor, fewer medical interventions and less exhaustion during labor. Another perk is that it makes it easier for you to get back into shape after your baby is born.
Exercise is even good for the unborn baby. A 2013 study by the University of Montreal reports that as little as 20 minutes of moderate exercise just 3 times a week during pregnancy enhances the newborn child’s brain development. This head-start has a positive impact on the child’s entire life.
During pregnancy, walking, jogging, swimming, prenatal exercises, yoga or prenatal dance classes are good options. Avoid sports that have a risk of falls or knocks, or put extra stress on your joints.
Before starting any new exercise, always consult your doctor. You can also join classes for pregnant women.
5. Do Pelvic Floor Exercises
Pelvic floor exercises or Kegel exercises are great for strengthening the muscles that support your bladder, vagina and back passage. This in turn can aid in smooth delivery and quick recovery after birth. It also helps prevent urinary incontinence.
- Tighten your pelvic floor muscles (the ones you use to stop the flow of urine in midstream). Make sure you do not move the leg, buttock, or abdominal muscles.
- Hold for a count of 5.
- Then, relax the muscles for 5 seconds.
- Repeat up to 10 times for 1 complete set. Aim for doing at least 3 sets a day.
Note: Do not perform this exercise when emptying your bladder as it may increase the risk of urinary tract infection.
6. Get Plenty of Rest and Sleep
Pregnancy is a time when you need to pay particular attention to a balanced diet and enough exercise, but at the same time getting enough rest and sleep is vital as well.
Pregnancy causes several hormonal changes in the body that can lead to fatigue and exhaustion. To help your body overcome this, it is important to listen to your body and get adequate rest.
A 2010 study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews sheds light on the importance of sufficient sleep during pregnancy.
Sleep is essential to nourish the development of the unborn baby and provide energy to the mother needed for labor and delivery.
Sleep deprivation during pregnancy can lead to longer labor, discomfort during labor, higher cesarean rates and preterm labor.
Backaches are one of the main causes behind disturbed sleep. A 2015 study done in Brazil reports that sleep quality is poor in pregnant women with low back pain as compared to those without pain.
If backaches are disturbing your sleep, try to sleep on your left side with your knees bent. You can even place a wedge-shaped pillow under your bump to reduce strain on your back. Yoga, deep breathing and warm massage can also help a lot.
Other things that can contribute to disturbed sleep during pregnancy include heartburn, leg cramps, morning sickness and endless bathroom trips.
Along with the physical discomforts of pregnancy, emotional stress due to the upcoming major life change can also cause sleep problems.
For a healthy pregnancy, you need restful and quality sleep. Put your feet up and take a relaxing nap for 30 to 60 minutes during daytime. Also, enjoy quality sleep at night.
7. Manage Stress
Feeling stressed during pregnancy is normal, but you need to keep your stress level under control.
Due to hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy, there is an increase in cortisol levels. These stress hormones can impact the health of the unborn baby.
Chronic or extreme maternal stress causes low blood flow to the baby, making it difficult for important nutrients to reach the baby’s developing organs. Plus, stress can make expecting mothers overwhelmed and fatigued, which in turn impacts sleep.
Constant or sudden stress can cause premature labor due to the release of contraction-triggering hormones.
A 2015 study by the Society for Research in Child Development reports that stress during pregnancy is related to a child’s motor development, as well as mental and cognitive outcomes in middle childhood and into adolescence.
Earlier, a 2012 study published in Current Opinion in Psychiatry reported that chronic strain, exposure to racism and depressive symptoms in mothers during pregnancy are associated with lower birth weight infants with consequences for infant development.
To manage stress, build your support system and talk about your fears and problems with your partner, friends, family members and even your doctor. Learn and practice meditation, such as slow, deep breathing to manage stress.
8. Stop Smoking
Women should not smoke before, during or after pregnancy and should try to avoid secondhand smoke as well.
A 1999 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that cocaine and tobacco use during pregnancy increase the risk of spontaneous abortion.
Another 2002 study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology highlights the negative effect of cigarette smoking on fetal heart rate characteristics.
Smoking also contributes to a number of other threats to the health of the fetus as well as premature birth and low birth weight.
Smoking even leads to pregnancy complications like nausea and vomiting (morning sickness), ectopic pregnancy, vaginal bleeding, premature placental detachment, and premature labor and delivery.
A 2010 study published in the European Journal of Pediatrics highlights the importance of smoking cessation during early pregnancy and its effect on adverse pregnancy outcomes and fetal growth.
A 2011 study published in Human Reproduction Update emphasized that birth defects that are associated with maternal smoking should be included in public health educational materials to encourage women to quit before or during pregnancy.
9. Avoid Alcohol
Any amount of alcohol you drink reaches your baby in the womb through your blood stream and the placenta. Hence, it is important to avoid alcohol during pregnancy.
Drinking too much alcohol during pregnancy can affect the way your baby develops and grows in the womb as well as your baby’s health at birth.
In fact, heavy alcohol intake can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, which causes abnormal appearance, short height, low body weight, small head and low intelligence, and other problems in the newborn.
In a 2015 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, experts concluded that no amount of alcohol is known to be safe to drink during pregnancy.
The report also says that prenatal alcohol is the leading preventable cause of birth defects and intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage, premature labor, preterm birth and stillbirth.
Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Centers for Disease Control and Backention suggest that women abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. Also, do not drink any alcohol while trying to become pregnant.
10. Do Not Take Unprescribed Medicines
Be it a headache, common cold or constipation, you should not take any medicine on your own. Always consult your doctor before taking medicine, including aspirin and other over-the-counter medicines.
During pregnancy, use of medicines is a matter of concern as everything you ingest, including medication, can reach the fetus and potentially harm the unborn baby.
A 1977 study published in JOGN Nursing illustrated the need to incorporate information about the use of unprescribed drugs during pregnancy into a preconception program of education.
A 2009 study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Science emphasized the fact that is the responsibility of all clinicians including pharmacists to counsel patients with complete, accurate and current information on the risks and benefits of using medications during pregnancy.
If you are pregnant with prior medical conditions or have developed certain health complications, medicines may be required. Trust your doctor to provide the best solution, which will be safe for you as well as your unborn baby.