10 steps to a healthy pregnancy

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.

See your doctor or midwife as soon as possible

As soon as you find out you’re pregnant, get in touch with your GP or a midwife to organise your antenatal care. Organising your care early means you’ll get good advice for a healthy pregnancy right from the start. You’ll also have plenty of time to organise any ultrasound scans and tests that you may need.

Eat well

Aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet whenever you can. Try to have:
At least five serves of vegetables and two of fruit daily.
Plenty of carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta and rice, as the basis of your meals. Choose unprocessed, minimally processed and wholegrain carbohydrates rather than highly processed ones, so you get plenty of nutrients and fibre.
Daily servings of protein, such as lean meat, eggs, nuts, fish or pulses, and some milk and dairy foods.

You don’t need to eat for two when you’re pregnant. You can keep up your energy levels with healthy snacks.

See our pregnancy meal planners for each trimester.

Take a supplement

  1. Pregnancy vitamin supplements aren’t a substitute for a balanced diet. But they can help if you’re worried you’re not eating well, or you’re too sick to eat much.

Make sure your supplement contains at least 500 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid. You need this while you’re trying for a baby and for the first three months of pregnancy. Taking folic acid reduces the risk of your baby developing a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.

Talk to your GP or a pharmacist before taking an antenatal supplement. If you don’t take a multivitamin for pregnant women, you can buy folic acid supplements separately.

If you don’t eat fish, fish oil supplements may be helpful. Choose a supplement made from the body of the fish, not the liver. This is because fish liver oils (such as cod liver oil) may contain the retinol form of vitamin A, which isn’t recommended in pregnancy.

Be careful about food hygiene

  1. There are some foods it’s safest not to eat in pregnancy. This is because they can carry a health risk for your baby.

Listeriosis is an infection caused by listeria bacteria. It’s rare and doesn’t usually pose a threat to your health. But it can cause pregnancy or birth complications. Listeriosis can even lead to miscarriage.

The following foods may harbour listeria and so are best avoided:
any type of refrigerated pâté, meat paste or terrine
unpasteurised milk
undercooked convenience meals
soft and mould-ripened cheeses, such as brie
blue-veined cheeses, such as roquefort
As listeria bacteria are destroyed by heat, make sure you heat ready meals thoroughly.

Salmonella bacteria can cause food poisoning. You can get salmonella poisoning from eating:
undercooked chicken and other poultry
raw or soft-cooked eggs

Cook eggs until the white and yolk are solid. Thoroughly wash utensils, boards and your hands after handling raw poultry. Food hygiene is especially important now you’re pregnant.

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite. It’s also rare, but it can affect your unborn baby. You can cut down your risk of catching it by:
cooking meat and ready meals thoroughly
washing fruit and vegetables well to remove soil or dirt
wearing gloves when handling cat litter and garden soil

Exercise regularly

  1. Regular exercise has many benefits for mums-to-be. It can:
    Build your strength and endurance. This may help you to cope better with the extra weight of pregnancy and the hard work of labour.
    Make it easier for you to get back into shape after your baby is born.
    Boost your spirits and even help to ward off depression.

Good exercise choices for pregnancy include:
brisk walking
swimming
aquanatal classes
yoga
Pilates

If you play sport, you can continue as long as it feels comfortable for you. But if your particular sport carries a risk of falls or knocks, or extra stress on your joints, it’s best to stop. Talk to your GP if you’re unsure.

Begin doing pelvic floor exercises

  1. Your pelvic floor comprises a hammock of muscles at the base of your pelvis. These muscles support your bladder, vagina and back passage. They can feel weaker than usual in pregnancy because of the extra pressure upon them. Pregnancy hormones can also cause your pelvic floor to slacken slightly.

Weak pelvic floor muscles put you at risk of developing stress incontinence. This is when small amounts of urine leak out when you sneeze, laugh or exercise.

Strengthening your muscles by doing pelvic floor exercises regularly throughout your pregnancy can help. Having a toned pelvic floor may help your baby’s birth go more smoothly too. You’ll feel the benefit if you do eight pelvic floor squeezes, three times a day.

Cut out alcohol

  1. 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 experts recommend cutting out alcohol completely throughout pregnancy.

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.

Cut back on caffeine

  1. Coffee, tea, cola and energy drinks are mild stimulants. There are concerns that too much caffeine may increase your risk of miscarriage. It’s also thought possible that too much caffeine may contribute to your risk of having a low-birth-weight baby.

Current guidelines state that up to 200mg of caffeine a day won’t hurt your baby. That’s the equivalent of two cups of tea, one mug of instant coffee or one cup of espresso-based coffee.

As with alcohol, you may prefer to cut out caffeine altogether, particularly in the first trimester. Decaffeinated tea and coffee, fruit teas and pasteurised fruit juices are all safe alternatives.

Stop smoking

  1. Smoking during pregnancy can cause serious health problems, for you and your baby. These include an increased risk of:
    miscarriage

Smoking may even be associated with the loss of a baby at birth.

Smoking makes the following pregnancy complications more likely:
Nausea and vomiting (morning sickness)
Ectopic pregnancy
Placental abruption, where the placenta comes away from the uterus wall before your baby is born

If you smoke, it’s best to stop, for your own health and that of your baby. The sooner you stop smoking, the better, but it’s never too late. Even stopping in the last few weeks of your pregnancy can benefit you both.

Ask your GP or midwife to help you with ways to give up.

Get some rest

  1. The fatigue you feel in the first few months is due to high levels of pregnancy hormones circulating in your body. Later on, it’s your body’s way of telling you to slow down.

If you can’t sleep at night, try to take a quick nap in the middle of the day to catch up. If that’s impossible, at least put your feet up and try to relax for 30 minutes.

If backache is disturbing your sleep, try lying on your left-hand side with your knees bent. Placing a wedge-shaped pillow under your bump may help ease the strain on your back.

Exercise may also give you some relief from backache. It can help with sleep problems, too, as long as you don’t exercise too close to bedtime.

Always let your exercise teacher know that you’re pregnant or, ideally, choose classes tailored to pregnant women.

Check out our slideshow on healthy foods for your first trimester.

Don’t forget to download our free app for a day-by-day guide to your pregnancy. My Pregnancy & Baby Today gives you all the expert advice you need, right at your fingertips.
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