Consider these 12 tips for healthy nine months ahead

Consider these 12 tips for healthy nine months ahead.

Eat this, but don’t eat that. Try this, but stay away from that. Expecting mothers encounter tons of advice on what to do and what not to do for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. It may seem confusing or overwhelming at times, but the truth is, your body has new nutritional needs, safety concerns, and even limitations.

Now that you’re pregnant, taking care of yourself and your baby has never been more important. Your baby is relying on you for its health and wellness. With all of the changes happening to your body, your primary focus should be staying healthy and working with your primary care provider to give your baby a healthy start in life and your peace of mind. Consider these 12 tips for the nine months ahead.

Eat for two.

Make sure you’re getting enough calories to maintain a healthy weight. Most women need about 300 more calories a day for at least the last six months of pregnancy. Saying yes to occasional cravings or indulgences is okay, just be careful with portions. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables and the other half whole grains. You need healthy foods packed with nutrients that help your baby grow. Choose healthy snacks like whole-grain crackers with low-fat cheese or low-fat yogurt with fruit. Don’t forget breakfast.

In addition to what you should be eating to help your body grow, there are some things you should avoid. Limit drinks with caffeine and added sugars, and avoid raw or uncooked foods, soft cheeses, raw or rare meats, unpasteurized juices or kinds of milk, lunch or deli meats, prepared salads, and raw sprouts. Some women are at risk for gestational diabetes, which causes high blood sugar, so daily blood sugar monitoring, healthy diet, exercise, and monitoring the baby are necessary.

Take a prenatal vitamin with folic acid, iron, and iodine.

Taking this vitamin every day helps to keep you and your baby healthy. Your body needs more iron because you’re producing more of it. The iron in the prenatal vitamin helps both you and your baby’s blood to carry oxygen, while folic acid helps to prevent severe birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. While the supplement is no replacement for a healthy diet, most pregnant women need to take a prenatal vitamin to make sure they get appropriate levels of these minerals.

Visit your doctor regularly.

Early and regular prenatal visits help your doctor to monitor your health and the health of your baby. If your pregnancy is healthy, you’ll often visit your doctor monthly before the first 28 weeks, every two weeks between weeks 28 to 36, then weekly starting around week 36 to birth. Ask about medications—do not change anything until you’ve heard from your doctor. Contact your doctor immediately if you are bleeding or leaking fluid from the vagina, have sudden or severe swelling, get severe or lasting headaches, have a fever, are vomiting, feel dizzy, have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, or suspect your baby is moving less than normal after 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Stay up to date on vaccinations.

Vaccinations protect you and your baby from harmful diseases and infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting whooping cough and flu vaccines while pregnant. Talk to your ob-gyn about these vaccines. You can get the flu shot before or during each pregnancy, too. Stay away from people who have chickenpox, shingles, and other viruses. Take special precautions around young children, too. Always wash your hands and take extra efforts to prevent the spread of germs.

Avoid harmful substances and activities.

By avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs during pregnancy, you’re automatically protecting yourself and your baby from some of the most preventable health conditions. For example, smoking can increase your baby’s risk of low birth weight. It also causes cancer, heart disease, and other major health programs. It’s best to quit smoking before you get pregnant (if you need help, learn more about our Smoking Cessation Program). Drinking alcohol can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Babies born to women who use drugs like cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine are also likely to be born addicted and must go through withdrawal. They may also have physical problems and/or problems with behavior or learning.

During pregnancy, you should also avoid exposure to lead (found in many homes built before 1978), mercury found mainly in fish, arsenic, pesticides, and solvents. Even everyday chores can be risky when you’re pregnant. Clean in well-ventilated areas and check all product labels for warnings for pregnant women. Avoid changing cat litter to reduce your risk of toxoplasmosis, a disease that results from a microscopic parasite. Avoid heavy lifting, climbing on step stools or ladders, and standing for long periods. Stay away from hot tubs and saunas too, which raise your body temperature.

Maintain a healthy weight.

Always check with your doctor to determine how much weight gain is right for you. Here are some general guidelines, courtesy of the Institute of Medicine:
  • If you were at a normal weight before pregnancy, you should gain 25-30 pounds.
  • If you were underweight, you should gain 28-40 pounds.
  • If you were overweight, you should gain 15-25 pounds.
  • If you were obese, you should gain 11-20 pounds.

You should gain weight gradually, with most of the gains occurring in the final trimester. Generally, you should gain 2-4 pounds total during the first trimester, then 3-4 pounds per month for the second and third trimesters. Where does all that added weight go? About 6-8 pounds goes to the baby, 1.5 pounds to the placenta, 2 pounds to the amniotic fluid, 2 pounds for uterus growth, 2 pounds for breast growth, 8 pounds for your blood and body fluids, and 7 pounds for your body’s protein and fat. Fascinating, right?

If you think you’re gaining weight too quickly, try to cut back on foods with added sugars and solid fats. If you’re not gaining enough, eat a little more from each food group daily.

Stay hydrated.

You need more water during pregnancy. Many pregnant women experience constipation, hemorrhoids, excessive sweating, and urinary tract or bladder infections. But drinking water helps you to stay hydrated and prevents many of these common ailments from occurring. Not getting enough water can also lead to premature or early labor. The Institute of Medicine recommends about 10 cups of fluids daily. Water, juices, coffee, tea, and soft drinks all count toward your fluid intake. But, remember, some beverages are higher in added sugars and empty calories than others.

Get comfortable.

Your pregnancy wardrobe should be all about comfort. Many pregnant women suffer foot problems like swollen ankles, swollen feet, and arch and heel pain. Some women feel more dizzy or clumsy while pregnant, and the last thing you want is your clothing making it worse. Opt for clothing and shoes that are comfortable and supportive. Your back and hips will thank you.

Get physical—within limits.

Unless your doctor tells you not to exercise during your pregnancy, you should get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. Pregnant or not, your body needs physical activity to keep your heart, bones, and mind healthy and strong. Think low-impact exercises at a moderate level: walking, dancing, swimming, and bicycling. Avoid activities where you could get hit in the belly or fall—soccer, kickboxing, rock-climbing, skiing, or gymnastics, for example. Take frequent breaks, drink plenty of water, be careful not to lose your balance, do not workout in extreme heat or humidity, and don’t overdo it.

To help you push during delivery and recover after birth, try Kegel exercises, too. They strengthen and support the rectum, vagina, and urethra in the pelvis and can also prevent problems later with incontinence. Here’s how to do them: practice squeezing as though you’re stopping the flow of urine when you use the bathroom, hold for 3 seconds then relax for 3 seconds, repeat 10 times.

Travel cautiously.

Life doesn’t stop when you’re pregnant. You’re bound to have to travel at some point during your pregnancy, and that’s okay. Talk to your doctor before making any grand travel plans, including leaving the country. Consider the destination—if the water is safe, you need vaccinations before you go, etc. Avoid long periods of sitting in a car or airplane. Air travel is generally safe for most pregnant women, and airlines allow women to fly up to 36 weeks pregnant. Always wear your seatbelt and bring a copy of your medical record and insurance card in the event of an emergency. If you have any questions or concerns or suspect a problem during your trip, seek medical attention immediately.

Rest, relax, repeat.

Get plenty of sleep. A good 7 to 8 hours is what you and your baby need each night. Try to sleep on your left side to improve blood flow. Listen to your body—when you need to rest, rest. It can be challenging to find the right position, especially later in pregnancy, that allows you to destress and unwind fully, but practice relaxation techniques daily like yoga, deep breathing, and meditation. Try to avoid stressful situations and rely on others if you need help. Treat yourself to a massage or take a quiet walk—do something that’s calming and good for both you and the baby.

Get ready.

Before you know it, your last trimester will end. While you still have a few months before your baby arrives, prepare yourself and your family for what happens next. Write your birth plan: who you want to be in the delivery, procedures you want to avoid, special clothing or items you want to bring, positions you prefer for labor and delivery, your pain medication preference, and what to do if complications arise. Educate yourself on common situations you may encounter with your baby. Take a pregnancy class. Tour birthing facilities. Babysit a friend or family member’s baby for hands-on practice. Learn about postpartum depression so you know how to spot the signs and symptoms.

Every pregnancy is wondrous and unique. It should be a momentous yet joyous experience for you and your family. If you have any questions or concerns about your pregnancy, don’t hesitate to ask. 

Congratulations, and best wishes for a healthy pregnancy and delivery!

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