Follow these simple pregnancy tips on safety and nutrition to stay healthy throughout the nine months before your baby arrives.
1 Staying Healthy During Pregnancy
If you're pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, you probably know some of the basic pregnancy advice about taking care of yourself and the baby: don't smoke or be around secondhand smoke, don't drink, and get your rest. Here are more pregnancy tips, from taking vitamins to what to do with the kitty litter, that can help ensure safe and healthy prenatal development.
2 Take a Prenatal Vitamin
Even when you're still trying to conceive, it's smart to start taking prenatal vitamins. Your baby's neural cord, which becomes the brain and spinal cord, develops within the first month of pregnancy, so it's important you get essential nutrients – like folic acid, calcium, and iron – from the very start.
Prenatal vitamins are available over the counter at most drug stores, or you can get them by prescription from your doctor. If taking them makes you feel queasy, try taking them at night or with a light snack. Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy afterward can help, too.
Staying active is important for your general health and can help you reduce stress, control your weight, improve circulation, boost your mood, and sleep better. Take a pregnancy exercise class or walk at least 15-20 minutes every day at a moderate pace, in cool, shaded areas or indoors in order to prevent overheating.
Pilates, yoga, swimming, and walking are also great activities for most pregnant women, but be sure to check with your doctor first before starting any exercise program. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Listen to your body, though, and don't overdo it.
4 Write a Birth Plan
Determined to have a doula? Counting on that epidural? Write down your wishes and give a copy to everyone involved with the delivery. According to the Doctor, here are some things to consider when writing your birth plan:
- Who you want present, including children or siblings of the baby
- Procedures you want to avoid
- What positions you prefer for labor and delivery
- Special clothing you'd like to wear
- Whether you want music or a special focal point
- Whether you want pain medications, and what kind
- What to do if complications arise
5 Educate Yourself
Even if this isn't your first baby, attending a childbirth class will help you feel more prepared for delivery. Not only will you have the chance to learn more about childbirth and infant care, but you can ask specific questions and voice any concerns. You'll also become more acquainted with the facility and its staff.
Now is also a good time to brush up on your family's medical history. Talk to your doctor about problems with past pregnancies, and report any family incidences of birth defects.
6 Eliminate Toxins
Because of their link to birth defects, miscarriage, and other problems, you should avoid tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, and even solvents such as paint thinners and nail polish remover while pregnant. Smoking cigarettes, for example, decreases oxygen flow to your baby; it's linked to preterm birth and other complications. "If you can't stop smoking, drinking, or using drugs, let your doctor know," A doctor can offer advice and support, as well as refer you to a program that helps pregnant women stop smoking.
7 Change Up Chores
Even everyday tasks like scrubbing the bathroom or cleaning up after pets can become risky when you're pregnant. Exposure to toxic chemicals, lifting heavy objects, or coming in contact with bacteria can harm you and your baby. Here are some things to (hooray!) take off your to-do-list:
- Heavy lifting
- Climbing on stepstools or ladders
- Changing kitty litter (to avoid toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by a parasite which cats can carry)
- Using harsh chemicals
- Standing for long periods of time, especially near a hot stove
8 Track Your Weight Gain
We know—you're eating for two. But packing on too many extra pounds may make them hard to lose later. At the same time, not gaining enough weight can put the baby at risk for a low-weight birth, a major cause of developmental problems. Recently the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued new guidelines for weight gain during pregnancy. Here's what the IOM recommends, based on a woman's BMI (body mass index) before becoming pregnant with one baby:
- Underweight: Gain 28-40 pounds
- Normal weight: Gain 25-35 pounds
- Overweight: Gain 15-25 pounds
- Obese: Gain 11-20 pounds
Check in with your doctor frequently to make sure you're gaining at a healthy rate.
9 Rethink Your Spa Style
Pregnancy is definitely a time for pampering, but you need to be careful. Avoid saunas, which can make you overheated. Ditto for hot tubs: According to the American Pregnancy Association, it takes only 10 to 20 minutes of sitting in one for your body temperature to reach 102 degrees Farenheit—nearly the limit of what's considered safe for pregnant women. Also, certain essential oils can cause uterine contractions, especially during the first and second trimester, so check with your massage therapist to make sure only safe ones are being used. On the taboo list: juniper, rosemary, and clary sage. The same goes for over-the-counter medicines and supplements containing these herbal remedies; don't take them without first consulting your obstetrician or midwife.
10 Drink More Water
During pregnancy, your blood is supplying oxygen and essential nutrients to your baby through the placenta and carrying waste and carbon dioxide away — which means your blood volume increases up to 50 percent to handle all this extra activity. So, you need to drink more to support that gain. Drinking water can also help prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, UTIs, fatigue, headaches, swelling, and other uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms. Aim for 8-10 glasses per day, and if you don't enjoy the taste, try adding a squeeze of lime or a splash of fruit juice.
11 Recharge with Fruit
Most doctors recommend limiting caffeine during pregnancy, since it can have harmful effects on you and the baby. Cutting back can be tough, though, especially when you're used to your morning java. For a quick pick-me-up, try nibbling on some fruit. "The natural sugars in fruits like bananas and apples can help lift energy levels," says registered dietitian Frances Largeman-Roth.
12 Go Fish
In a 2007 study of more than 12,000 children, researchers found that youngsters whose moms ate the most fish during pregnancy had higher I.Q.s – plus better motor and communication skills – than those whose mothers did not eat fish. Scientists say that's because fish is high in omega 3s, a nutrient critical to brain development. There's just one catch: Some kinds of fish contain mercury, which can be toxic to both babies and adults.
To be safe, the FDA recommends that pregnant women eat no more than 12 ounces of fish per week. Stick with canned light tuna, shrimp, salmon, pollack, or catfish. Avoid swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish, which are all high in mercury.
13 Stay Clean
Frequent hand washing can protect you from infections such as Group B streptococcus, Fifth disease, cytomegalovirus, and chickenpox, all of which can cause birth defects and other severe complications for your baby. Ethyl alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a great option for those times when you can't get to a sink.
14 Say Yes to Cravings—Sometimes
Truth be told, no one knows why pregnancy cravings happen. Some experts say they may be nature's way of providing nutrients an expectant mom may be lacking. Others say they're an emotional thing. Regardless, as long as you're eating an overall healthy diet, it's usually OK to give in to your cravings. Just be careful to limit portions—don't down all that ice cream at once!—and know which snacks to steer clear of. A few foods to avoid: raw and undercooked meat or eggs; brie, feta, and other types of unpasteurized cheese; herbal teas; and raw sprouts.
15 Know When to Call the Doctor
Being pregnant can be confusing, especially if it's your first time. How do you know which twinge is normal and which one isn't? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
- Pain of any kind
- Strong cramps
- Contractions at 20-minute intervals
- Vaginal bleeding or leaking of fluid
- Dizziness or fainting
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Constant nausea and vomiting
- Trouble walking, edema (swelling of joints)
- Decreased activity by the baby