Pregnancy and Children

Being Healthy Before and During Pregnancy

Getting Healthy during Pregnancy     Getting Healthy during Pregnancy

Your physical health both before you get pregnant and after you are pregnant can affect the health of your baby. The material below will assist you in understanding how to properly take care of your body.

Steps to Being Healthy Before and During Pregnancy

If you are trying to become pregnant or are already pregnant, it is more important than ever to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally. Your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby will increase greatly if you follow the guidelines, adapted from the websites listed at the bottom of the page, below:

  1. Take prenatal vitamins.  Most prenatal supplements contain more folic acid, iron, and calcium than you will find in a standard multivitamin. Pregnant women need to be sure to get enough of these nutrients, especially folic acid, which greatly reduces a baby's risk of developing neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida. Ideally, you should start taking 400 micrograms of folic acid a day at least three months before getting pregnant, and up the dose to 600 mcg when your pregnancy is confirmed.  Eat a healthy diet that includes foods that contain folate, the natural form of the vitamin. Such foods include fortified breakfast cereals, beans, leafy green vegetables and orange juice.  Do not take any additional supplements or herbal preparations without your health provider's approval.

  2. Get a pre-pregnancy checkup or start prenatal testing. Your health care provider can help you stay as healthy as possible. She or he can explain how pregnancy might affect you, review any medications you are taking and make sure you are up to date on immunizations.  Do not forget to check with your dentist to be sure your teeth and gums are healthy. Hormonal shifts during pregnancy can make you more susceptible to gum disease. Increased progesterone and estrogen levels can cause the gums to react differently to the bacteria in plaque, resulting in swollen, bleeding, tender gums.

  3. Eat healthy foods, maintain a healthy weight and get healthy exercise.  Avoid foods high in fat and sugar. Avoid undercooked eggs and meat, unpasteurized milk and juice, raw seafood, and soft cheeses to avoid ingesting bacteria that could harm your baby. Also avoid certain fish that may contain mercury or other contaminants.  Also, cut back on caffeine. If you are overweight, try to lose weight before you start trying to get pregnant. Exercise is a good way to help control weight, build fitness and reduce stress. Talk to your health care provider about activities that are both safe and beneficial.

  4. Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke. The best time to stop smoking is before you get pregnant and smoking during pregnancy can put your baby at risk for miscarriage, growth problems, placental abruption, and premature delivery. Some research has even linked smoking to an increased risk of having a baby with a cleft lip or palate. Even if you are not a smoker, stay away from secondhand smoke.

  5. Do not drink alcohol.  Consuming any kind of alcohol (hard liquor, wine, beer, wine coolers, etc.) puts your baby at risk for miscarriage and serious physical and mental problems. The alcohol you drink reaches your baby rapidly through your bloodstream and across the placenta, and your baby can end up with higher levels of blood alcohol than you have. As little as one drink a day can increase your odds of having a low-birthweight baby and increase your child's risk for problems with learning, speech, attention span, language, and hyperactivity.  Women who have more than two drinks a day are at greater risk for giving birth to a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

  6. Do not use illegal drugs.  Any drug you use gets into your baby's bloodstream as well. Some studies suggest that marijuana may restrict your baby's growth and cause withdrawal symptoms (like tremors) in your newborn. Using cocaine, heroine, or any other street drug is extremely dangerous.  Street drugs can put your baby at risk for miscarriage, preterm delivery and serious physical and mental problems.

  7. Cut back on caffeine.  Although most experts agree that one or two 8-ounce cups of coffee a day will not harm your baby, heavy caffeine consumption has been linked to a higher risk of miscarriage, and some studies suggest that excessive caffeine intake may slightly increase your risk of having a low-birthweight baby.   It is also a stimulant, so it can make it even harder for you to get a good night's sleep, give you headaches, and contribute to heartburn. So limit your consumption or consider switching to decaffeinated coffee or tea. Remember that other things, including many sodas and chocolate also contain caffeine.

  8. Try to prevent infections since some infections you get can harm a developing baby. Wash your hands frequently. Stay away from potentially unsafe food, cook all meat and eggs thoroughly, sash all fruits and vegetables well and stay away from unpasteurized milk products. Stay away from rodents, including pet mice, hamsters and guinea pigs.  Avoid handling cat litter or soil because they can contain a parasite that causes an infection called toxoplasmosis. Have sex with only one person who does not have other sex partners and/or use a condom when having sex.

  9. Avoid hazardous substances and chemicals.  Some cleaning products, pesticides, solvents, paint and lead in drinking water from old pipes can be dangerous to your baby.  Reduce your risk by wearing rubber gloves and working in a well-ventilated area.  Some jobs can be hazardous to you and your unborn child.  Talk to your doctor or midwife about what your daily routine involves so you can come up with ways to avoid or eliminate hazards in your home and workplace.

  10. Exercise regularly.  A good exercise program can give you the strength and endurance, can reduce stress and it can make getting back into shape much easier. Some research suggests that staying active can boost your level of serotonin, a brain chemical linked to mood.

  11. Get some rest.  The fatigue you feel in the first trimester and third trimesters is your body's way of saying "slow down." So listen to your body and get as much rest as you can.  Relaxation techniques such as yoga, stretching, deep breathing, and massage are all great ways to combat stress and get a better night's sleep.

  12. Take care of your emotional health.  Many women feel like they are very "emotional" during pregnancy. While moodiness is very common and normal, if your mood swings are extreme or interfering with your daily life, you may be suffering from depression and may need some help from your health care provider or a mental health professional.

Additional Information

March of Dimes: 10 Steps to Getting Healthy Before Pregnancy

Recommendations to promote healthy pregnancies by the CDC

Twelve steps to a healthy pregnancy

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