Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy

Pregnancy can be an incredible time to nurture and care for your soon-to-be child(ren). From the moment of conception, the fetus absorbs all of its nutrients through the placenta. Nutrients and substances that are absorbed the female's body also make their way into the fetus as well. These article outlines some tips to keep in mind to maintain a healthy pregnancy for both your health and your baby’s health. This is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list, but provides several suggestions developed by doctors for a healthy pregnancy.

 

Go See a Doctor

While pregnancy can be an experience that brings delight to one’s life, it can also bring some anxiety, especially with the first child. Once a female takes a pregnancy test and confirms that she is pregnant, she should schedule a doctor’s appointment with an obstetrician within a month of the first test. Females should take another pregnancy test at the doctor’s office to ensure that she is indeed pregnant, as false positives can occur based on hormonal changes. A pregnancy test done at a doctor’s office will give you the most accurate
results because the technology at a clinic or hospital is more advanced than the drugstore versions.4 

During the appointment, several health care officials will advise on proper nutrition, lifestyle changes, timeline, and other subjects. If the female does not plan on carrying the child to term, the doctor can then discuss options for abortion and what that process may look like. Check out our article on abortion to find out more information. Adoption is another option that a female can explore if she does not want to keep the child to raise as her own, but would rather have another person or family raise the child. Many individuals choose to either give the child to another family for adoption, or choose to adopt a child. For more information about the adoption process, check out our article on adoption in the United States.6

However, if the female does plan on keeping the baby to term, the doctor will proceed with directions and suggestions for a healthy pregnancy. Even if a woman decides to have someone adopt the child, she should keep these tips in mind in order to ensure a healthy baby. Although not necessary, it is often beneficial for the father or another person to assist with the pregnancy, acting as a strong support system and aiding with the many steps that come with preparing for a child. For mental health purposes, the doctor may inquire about the living situation in order to see what kind of measures need to be taken for the child’s optimal safety in the womb and after birth. While the doctor may suggest many changes, all of them should be taken into consideration to ensure that the child will be healthy. Because the baby takes in all of its nutrients from the placenta, it experiences the hormonal changes that the mother undergoes. It is best to minimize potential stressors to the mother so that she and baby are mentally and physically healthy during the pregnancy.7

While some of these questions may seem embarrassing, it is essential that the female answers them openly and honestly so that the health care professionals can provide the proper resources for the pregnancy. Many doctors suggest that pregnant females see a counselor or psychologist to aid with the mental and hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy. Seeing a counselor can help to alleviate the stress of pregnancy and is completely normal.8

Important Prenatal Care Tests

Doctors perform a prenatal screening to check that the baby is healthy in the womb before birth. A prenatal screening checks for any abnormalities in the child to ensure that the child is healthy. All pregnant women should consider getting one performed, especially if there is a family history of any hereditary conditions. The testing should be done between fifteen and twenty weeks into the a pregnancy. The best time is between weeks sixteen and seventeen because that is when the baby is developed enough to check for physical and chemical abnormalities. The cost can vary based on where the screening is performed, but many insurance companies and healthcare plans cover the cost. It is important to contact your insurance provider for full coverage information regarding costs of various doctor visits and other procedures. If you live in California, you can check out the California Department of Health Services website or you can search online for the Department of Health corresponding to your residency for further information.6

The fetus can experience magnified effects of any infections that the mother has while pregnant. Individuals should be tested for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) with every new partner and every three months if they are sexually active. These urine and blood tests can be performed at clinics, such as Planned Parenthood or hospitals. During this process, it is important to get tested for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as a female can pass the virus on to the fetus during pregnancy or at birth.  It is also wise to get tested for a wide variety of STIs including genital herpes and chlamydia, which can cause damage to the fetus, premature birth, and neonatal eye infections. Pregnant females should test their immunity to German measles (rubella) before pregnancy as the fetus can suffer serious developmental defects such as deafness and intellectual disability. It is also important for an expecting mother to take extra safety precautions if she plans on remaining sexually active while pregnant. This includes using barrier methods of contraception, including the male or female condom to ensure that there is no possibility of STI transmission between partners that could cause potential harm to the fetus.

Eat Right

Maintaining a healthy diet before, during, and after pregnancy is essential to having a healthy baby. An inadequate diet can lower the baby’s immune system and increases the baby’s chance of contracting a disease, being born underweight, or developing other health complications. Therefore, make sure that the mother is getting a plethora of nutrients for her body and the baby’s.5

Doctors and nutritionists have developed a wide variety of proper diet suggestions and restrictions, suggesting a well balanced diet of carbohydrates, vitamins, healthy fats, proteins, and lots of non-processed fruits and vegetables. Because the mother has to provide for the baby and her own body, she will need to eat more than normal. Doctors recommend that the average diet increase by approximately 300 more calories, although one should consult a doctor before making any changes to their diet.5

Necessary Nutrients

While maintaining a balanced diet, mothers should know what nutrients are especially necessary for optimal prenatal conditions. Calcium, which is found in dairy products and some leafy green vegetables, contributes to healthy bone development. Iron, which can be found in meats, seafood, and fruits, is important for healthy blood levels and concentrations, especially during a pregnancy when that blood is carrying nutrients to the baby. Folic acid, which is found in all leafy greens and beans, protects against neural tube defects like spina bifida. Vitamin C, which can be found in citrus, brussels sprouts, and peppers, contributes to the healthy development of the immune system to prevent sickness. Vitamin A, which can be found in carrots and spinach, is essential for healthy vision.

In addition to maintaining a healthy diet, one should take pre-natal vitamins to supplement important nutrients that may be difficult to get from foods.5

It is common to gain weight while pregnant. Some of that extra weight is the baby itself, much of it is amniotic fluid surrounding and protecting the baby. The amniotic fluid transfers nutrients into the baby’s body.6

Food Cravings

Food cravings are a common occurrence during pregnancy and about two-thirds of pregnant females will experience. It is absolutely okay to indulge in your food cravings if they provide energy or an essential nutrient. However, if these cravings prevent you from getting other essential nutrients, try to keep a more balanced diet and consult your doctor. Never give in to non-food cravings and consult your health provider if they are causing you problems.

Dealing with Morning Sickness

If the female is experiencing morning sickness or other forms of nausea during the pregnancy, she should eat bland foods to ease the stomach. Eating crackers, cereal, or pretzels can help prevent morning sickness. Many others suggest eating small and frequent meals so that the stomach has time to digest the food. Stay away from fatty or greasy foods, as the oils can contribute to further nausea and an upset stomach.6

Foods to Avoid

Caffeine can also cause negative effects to the fetus, as the developing nervous system cannot handle such strong amounts of caffeine, and can cause pregnancy complications.Ingesting alcohol or drugs during the pregnancy can cause detrimental effects to the development of the fetus. Drugs and alcohol consumption during pregnancy is associated with premature delivery, mental retardation, birth defects, and low birth weight. Substances that a pregnant female puts in her body will pass through the placental barrier and affect the fetus. Alcohol and drugs can cause many birth defects and abnormalities. Be careful when consuming prescription drugs. Talk to your doctor about any prescription or over the counter medications you are already taking or considering taking. Common medications such as Accutane (a popular treatment for severe acne, especially in teens) and over the counter drugs such as aspirin can have severe consequences on the development of the fetus, so ensure that the medications you are taking are safe.5

Although fish can provide essential omega-3 oils and other healthy fats, the source of the fish can greatly affect the quality. Sharks, swordfish, king mackerel, and white snapper all have high levels of mercury because of where they are caught. Other fish in the wild may also have high levels of mercury. Mercury can cause cognitive and physical abnormalities in the pregnant mother and the child. Pregnant females should avoid raw fish due to the increased potential for accumulated elements that are not healthy for the baby. Eating fish during pregnancy can be very dangerous because fetuses are more vulnerable to mercury as a serious toxin. Ask your doctor for pamphlets on which fish you should avoid, and which ones you may eat in small portions.10

Exercise

Stay active without pushing too hard during pregnancy. Exercise provides many benefits, which may make pregnancy easier and more enjoyable. Exercise can improve your posture and decrease fatigue and other discomforts, such as back pain. It may also relieve stress and help build stamina for labor and delivery. Pregnant individuals should exercise for 30 minutes or more a couple times a week, or everyday if possible. Remember to exercise at a comfortable, moderate level.  Exercise may not be advisable if you have any medical issues such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or a pregnancy related health problem. Make sure to consult your doctor before starting any exercise regimen.11

Doctors recommend low-impact exercises for pregnant females in order to protect the safety of the baby in the womb and allow the female to remain healthy. Many recommend brisk walking, swimming, stationary cycling, elliptical machines, low-impact aerobics, and light jogging. While exercising, holding your breath, participating in contact sports, or exercising in extreme heat should be avoided. These activities pose conditions that make a female more susceptible to falling or causing potential harm to the child.5

While exercising, the female should remain at the level that she feels the most comfortable at. Doctors recommend wearing loose fitting clothing so that the sweaty material does not cause unnecessary chafing. It is crucial to remain hydrated by taking ample water breaks, since the water is hydrating the mother and the child. Exercising while pregnant should be a fun and enjoyable experience, but the female should stop if it ever becomes uncomfortable or painful.11

Intercourse

A question many couples have is whether or not it is okay to have sex while pregnant and whether or not it can harm the fetus. The answer is yes in a normal, healthy pregnancy.  It is also okay to engage in intercourse late in pregnancy, since research indicates that it does not increase the likelihood of premature childbirth and has no effect on the timing of labor. However, it is common for sexual activity to dramatically decrease throughout pregnancy for a variety of reasons.12 

Circumstances in which it is unadvised to have intercourse include threatened miscarriage or premature birth, vaginal bleeding, leakage of amniotic fluid, certain abnormalities of the placenta, and the presence of more than one fetus.3

The “man-on-top” position becomes awkward during pregnancy, so the side-by-side position may be a better option. Other possible options could be “woman-on-top” or rear entry. If intercourse is uncomfortable then there are other great options such as manual or oral contact. It is important to avoid blowing air into the vagina while pregnant because can cause pregnancy complications.3 Check out our article on sex positions for pregnant couples for more information!

Pregnant females who are sexually active or have multiple partners should be careful to not contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Use a condom to help protect against STIs.12

 

See a Friend

It is important to tell a friend, relative, or anyone else you trust, that you are pregnant. Make sure the people around you know about your situation so they can help you through the pregnancy. It is crucial to have people that you can go to for help, questions, concerns, or even just a hug. People in your life will usually appreciate you sharing this with them. Check out How to Help a Pregnant Friend for more ideas on ways a friend can help.14

Get Rest!

It is important to stay active, as well as get enough rest, during pregnancy. Lying on your side is usually the best position because it provides great circulation to the baby and can help reduce swelling. Some doctors may recommend you lie on your side with your hips or your knees bent, and a pillow between your knees. Ask your doctor for other good resting tips.13

 

Find Resources

Childbirth classes during the third trimester can help to educate and prepare oneself for having a child, especially for first time mothers and their partners. They allow expectant mothers to address any fears or concerns they have about the upcoming birth. There are a variety of different childbirth classes available. Most classes provide education on pregnancy, childbirth, and infant care as well as encourage breast-feeding. Some popular methods include the Lamaze Method and the Bradley Method.15

The Lamaze Method

This method focuses on education and relaxation training such as breathing exercises and techniques for relaxing the abdominal muscles. It also teaches techniques on how to reduce the perception of pain. Two techniques are lightly stroking the abdomen or thighs as well as focusing one’s visual attention on something in the environment such as a picture on the wall.15

The Bradley Method

This method stresses “natural childbirth” and places a lot of weight on the female’s partner as a “birth coach.” It encourages a birth without the use of drugs or anesthesia during labor and focuses on preventing possible complications through preparation.15

Although these are the two popular methods, most hospital-based childbirth classes do not follow them closely. Most hospital childbirth classes are based on the experience of the instructors.  This allows instructors to be practically oriented and able to meet the specific needs of the expectant mothers in the class. The classes are partner based whether it is a spouse, a friend, a family member, or any other willing participant. This process helps educate the expectant mother’s support system as well as relieve some of the expectant mothers stress. Childbirth classes are also a great way to meet other expectant mothers. This is beneficial because it allows one to meet other people going through a similar situation as well as gives one more access to tips and advice.15

Most hospitals have some form of childbirth classes. This is usually the least expensive option, however, they sometimes get crowded. Another option is attending a Birth Center. Ask your doctor for nearby class recommendations.15

 

Concluding Remarks

While all of these tips can contribute to the development of a healthy pregnancy, they are just recommendations, not a strict guide. Ultimately, pregnancy is a beautiful thing and should be celebrated through nurturing and caring for the woman’s body and the baby’s. Healthy babies come from happy and healthy mothers who carefully follow their doctor’s direction and take care of themselves.

 

References

  1. WebMD. "Creating a Pregnancy Diet: Healthy Eating During Pregnancy."  29 Sept. 2011.
  2. WebMD. "Pregnancy and Exercise."  29 Sept. 2011.
  3. LeVay, Simon. Baldwin, Janice. Baldwin, John. Discovering Human Sexuality. Sunderland, Sinauer Association.
  4. Planned Parenthood. “Pregnancy Test.”
  5. Planned Parenthood. “Pre-pregnancy Health.”
  6. Planned Parenthood. “Prenatal Care.”
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Adoption Options: Where Do I Start?” 2015.
  8. American Pregnancy. “Depression in Pregnancy.” 2015.
  9. American Pregnancy. “Caffeine Intake During Pregnancy.” 2015.
  10. American Pregnancy. “Omega 3 Fatty Acids: FAQs.” 2015.
  11. American Pregnancy. “Pregnancy Workout.” 2015.
  12. American Pregnancy. “Sex During Pregnancy.” 2015.
  13. American Pregnancy. “Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy.” 2015.
  14. Health and Parenting. “Pregnancy and Changing Friendships.” 2018.
  15. Baby Center. “Childbirth Classes.” 2016.

Last Updated: 15 May 2018.

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