Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy
Health is extremely important at any time in your life, but especially important during pregnancy. Now you’re not just trying to keep yourself healthy and strong, you’re also providing the building blocks for your child’s body. You want your new baby to be as healthy as possible, have a well-developed brain, and have the best possible chance of reaching full-term and flourishing from day one. Here are a few simple tips that, used in conjunction with your doctor’s advice, can help ensure a healthy and happy pregnancy.
Eat a Balanced Diet -- In today’s world, “diet” has many negative connotations…it brings to mind constant denial of junk food, strictly regulated intake of lean proteins and leafy greens, and so much more. In reality, all eating a balanced diet really means is to make sure that you take in the recommended number of servings from each of the food groups every day. Sure, this might take a bit of getting used to, but it’s really not as hard as it looks. This is not the time for drastic overall diet change, you’re pregnant and a bit of the types of foods you want won’t hurt anything, but taking care to add in more fruits and vegetables while cutting out some excess fat and sodium can go a long way to overall health. High blood pressure from bad cholesterol and too much sodium in your diet can lead to preeclampsia, a potentially deadly condition that often causes premature labor.
Find Healthy Ways to Fulfill Cravings – The body craves things because it needs it, and trying to ignore cravings will just increase your stress levels and send those already-precarious hormones into orbit. Instead, try to think of some healthy alternatives to some of your more unhealthy cravings. Rather than reaching for cookies and donuts if you want something sweet, see if some fruit or a bit of honey with peanut butter might help calm the cravings. If you crave something salty, try a handful of lightly-salted nuts instead of some French fries to go. It’s alright to give in to exact cravings every now and then, but if you go through your entire pregnancy craving greasy fast food hamburgers, indulging that craving all the time can lead to serious complications.
Consult Your Doctor About Weight Gain – While everyone is supposed to gain weight throughout pregnancy, it doesn’t mean you can just gain all the weight you want. Here’s where indulging those unhealthy cravings on a consistent basis can cause trouble. Most doctors agree that a pregnant woman should gain about 25-30 pounds during pregnancy (this might differ with certain factors, such as a mother starting out underweight), and your doctor should be able to give you a good idea of how much you should be gaining during each trimester. If you’re gaining significantly more, talk to your doctor about potential risks and what you can do, because excessive weight gain is the leading cause of gestational diabetes, amongst other complications.
Avoid Excessive Caffeine – There is nothing that points to possible complications with small amounts of caffeine, but larger amounts during pregnancy can have adverse effects on your blood pressure, ability to sleep soundly, and the child’s ability to develop normally. That’s not to say that you can’t have that cappuccino in the mornings or that you have to swear off your mid-day Pepsi, but it does mean that coffee addicts who are accustomed to drinking a pot or two a day will want to look at limiting their intake, or switching to decaf for the duration of the pregnancy.
Do Not Use Alcohol, Drugs or Tobacco – While this one is pretty much a given, it bears repeating. Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause horrible birth defects, learning disabilities, and other serious and potentially life-threatening issues, most of which are categorized under Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Children exposed to drugs such as meth or cocaine will be born addicted to the drugs, if they are born alive at all, and may suffer all manner of developmental issues if they do survive. Compared to these, tobacco doesn’t seem so serious to many people. In fact, some mothers have been known to intentionally smoke during their pregnancy in order to “make delivery easier” with a low birth-weight baby. The problem is that babies tend to have a low birth weight with tobacco use because they’ve been starved of oxygen during their development, and because tobacco causes blood vessels and other tissues to contract…including the umbilical cord that brings nutrients to your baby.
Take Multivitamins with Folic Acid – The lack of certain essential vitamins in an adult’s day-to-day diet may not produce any noticeable effects, but can make a huge difference to a developing baby. In addition, folic acid is essential in the development of the baby’s brain and in making synaptic connections, and studies have shown that prenatal folic acid levels do have an impact on a child’s IQ. A daily multivitamin containing folic acid or a specific prenatal vitamin will ensure that both you and the baby are getting all the vitamins you need.
Exercise Regularly – Regular exercise is very important, but in small amounts. Where strenuous workouts may have felt great and had wonderful effects on your non-pregnant self, this should be avoided during pregnancy. You need to have sufficient exercise to keep your joints limber and muscles toned, but too much deprives the baby of oxygen and increases the chances of injury. Talk to your doctor or prenatal fitness instructor about what kind of exercises are safe for you, keeping in mind where you are in your pregnancy and any weak or previously injured parts of your body.
Drink Lots of Water – Your body is retaining LOTS of fluid right now, and it needs to. Not only do you need to keep hydrated, you also need to provide enough fresh, clean fluid to allow old fluids to be flushed out of the system to keep everything as healthy as possible. Dehydration is one of the most serious problems during pregnancy, too little amniotic fluid is hazardous and potentially fatal to the baby.
Get Plenty of Quality Sleep – Your body heals and replenishes itself during sleep, so you need it in order to keep de-stressed and to give your baby plenty of time to grow. You may catch yourself sleeping more during the night and still taking an afternoon nap, which is completely normal…your body is doing a lot of work right now feeding the constant demands of a rapidly-growing baby.
Avoid Stress – Stress kills. Excessive stress can cause weight gain, high blood pressure, sleep deprivation, and so much more...and right now, with all those pregnancy hormones swimming around, it’s a lot easier to stress you out than it’s ever been before. Try to identify some of the more stressful parts of your life and see if there is a way they can be adjusted or eliminated. Make sure to take some time out for yourself every day in meditation, reading, or just taking a long, hot shower to sooth your nerves and restore your feelings of well-being.
Bear in mind that these are just a few tips, and each individual may have additional needs according to their age, physical fitness, background, and so many other factors. These are a few things to keep in mind for everyone, but a doctor can inform you of any additional things you may need to do for your own unique pregnancy. If you don’t have regular access to a doctor, check your local Department of Family Services (or equivalent) for resources available in your area. Many places have programs that offer educational classes for expectant mothers, resources such as prenatal fitness specialists and nutritionists, and so much more that can supplement the services of a doctor.
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