Now that you're pregnant,
taking care of yourself has never been more important. Here's how to keep you and
your baby as healthy as possible.
Prenatal Health Care
Key to protecting the health of your child is to get regular prenatal
care. If you think you're pregnant, call your health care provider to schedule
your first prenatal appointment. Many health care providers, though, won't schedule
the first visit before 8 weeks of pregnancy, unless there is a problem.
At this first visit, your health care provider will probably do a pregnancy test,
and will figure out how many weeks pregnant you are based on a physical examination
and the date of your last period. He or she will also use this information to predict
your delivery date (an ultrasound done sometime later in your pregnancy will help
to verify that date).
If you're healthy and there are no complicating risk factors, most health care
providers will want to see you:
every 4 weeks until the 28th week of pregnancy
then every 2 weeks until 36 weeks
then once a week until delivery
Throughout your pregnancy, your health care provider will check your weight and
blood pressure while also checking the growth and development of your baby (by doing
things like feeling your abdomen, listening for the fetal heartbeat starting during
the second trimester, and measuring your belly). During the span of your pregnancy,
you'll also have prenatal
tests, including blood, urine, and cervical tests, and probably at least one ultrasound.
When choosing a health care provider to counsel and treat you during your
pregnancy, your options include:
obstetricians/gynecologists (also known as OB/GYNs): doctors who specialize in
pregnancy and childbirth, as well as women's health care
family practitioners: doctors who provide a range of services for patients of
all ages — in some cases, this includes obstetrical care
certified nurse-midwives: advanced practice nurses specializing
in women's health care needs, including prenatal care, labor and delivery, and postpartum
care for uncomplicated pregnancies. There are also other kinds of midwives, but you
should look for one with formal training who's been certified in the field.
Any of these is a good choice if you're healthy and there's no reason to anticipate
complications with your pregnancy and delivery. However, nurse-midwives do need to
have a doctor available for the delivery in case an unexpected problem arises or a
cesarean section (C-section)
Nutrition and Supplements
Now that you're eating for two (or more!), this is not the time to cut calories
or go on a diet. In fact, it's just the opposite — you need about 300 extra
calories a day, especially later in your pregnancy when your baby grows quickly. If
you're very thin, very active, or carrying multiples,
you'll need even more. But if you're overweight, your health care provider may advise
you to consume fewer extra calories.
is always important, but especially when you're pregnant. So, make sure your calories
come from nutritious foods that will contribute to your baby's growth and development.
Try to maintain a well-balanced diet that incorporates the dietary guidelines including:
low-fat dairy products
By eating a healthy, balanced diet you're more likely to get the nutrients
you need. But you will need more of the essential nutrients (especially calcium,
iron, and folic acid) than you did before you became pregnant. Your health care provider
will prescribe prenatal vitamins to be sure both you and your growing baby are getting
But taking prenatal vitamins doesn't mean you can eat a diet that's lacking in
nutrients. It's important to remember that you still need to eat well while pregnant.
Prenatal vitamins are meant to supplement your diet, and aren't meant to be your only
source of much-needed nutrients.
Most women 19 and older — including those who are pregnant — don't
often get the daily 1,000 mg of calcium that's recommended. Because your growing baby's
calcium demands are high, you should increase your calcium consumption to prevent
a loss of calcium from your own bones. Your doctor will also likely prescribe prenatal
vitamins for you, which may contain some extra calcium.
Good sources of calcium include:
low-fat dairy products including milk, pasteurized cheese, and yogurt
calcium-fortified products, including orange juice, soy milk, and cereals
dark green vegetables including spinach, kale, and broccoli
Pregnant women need about 30 mg of iron every day. Why? Because iron is needed
to make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells. Red blood cells
circulate throughout the body to deliver oxygen to all its cells.
Without enough iron, the body can't make enough red blood cells and the body's
tissues and organs won't get the oxygen they need to function well. So it's especially
important for pregnant women to get enough iron in their daily diets — for themselves
and their growing babies.
Although the nutrient can be found in various kinds of foods, iron from meat sources
is more easily absorbed by the body than iron found in plant foods. Iron-rich foods
dried beans and peas
dark leafy green vegetables
iron-fortified breakfast cereals
Folate (Folic Acid)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women
of childbearing age — and especially those who are planning a pregnancy —
get about 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid supplements every day. That
can be from a multivitamin or folic acid supplement in addition to the folic acid
found in food.
So, why is folic
acid so important? Studies have shown that taking folic acid supplements 1 month
prior to and throughout the first 3 months of pregnancy decrease the risk of neural
The neural tube — formed during the first several weeks of the pregnancy,
possibly before a woman even knows she's pregnant — goes on to become the baby's
developing brain and spinal cord. When the neural tube doesn't form properly, the
result is a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.
Again, your health care provider can prescribe a prenatal vitamin that contains
the right amount of folic acid. Some pregnancy health care providers even recommend
taking an extra folic acid supplement, especially if a woman has previously had a
child with a neural tube defect.
If you're buying an over-the-counter supplement, remember that most multivitamins
contain folic acid, but not all of them have enough to meet the nutritional needs
of pregnant women. So, be sure to check labels carefully before choosing one and check
with your health care provider.
It's important to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, during pregnancy. A
woman's blood volume increases dramatically during pregnancy, and drinking enough
water each day can help prevent common problems such as dehydration and constipation.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes
(that's 2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week if
you're not already highly active or doing vigorous-intensity activity.
If you are very active or did intense aerobic activities before becoming pregnant,
you may be able to keep up your workouts, as long as your doctor says it's safe. Before
beginning — or continuing — any exercise routine, talk to your doctor.
reduce pregnancy-related problems, like back pain, swelling, and constipation
boost your mood
prepare your body for labor
lessen recovery time after the birth
Low-impact, moderate-intensity exercise activities (such as walking and swimming)
are great choices. You also can try yoga or Pilates classes, videos, or exercise apps that
are tailored for pregnancy. These are low-impact and they work on strength, flexibility,
But you should limit high-impact aerobics and avoid sports and activities that
pose a risk of falling or abdominal injury. These include contact sports, downhill
skiing, scuba diving, and horseback riding.
It's also important to be aware of how your body changes. During pregnancy, your
body makes a hormone known as relaxin. It's believed to help prepare
the pubic area and the cervix for the birth. The relaxin loosens the ligaments in
your body, making you less stable and more prone to injury.
So, it's easy to overstretch or strain yourself, especially the joints in your
pelvis, lower back, and knees. Also, your center of gravity shifts as your pregnancy
progresses, so you may feel off-balance and at risk of falling. Keep these in mind
when you choose an activity and don't overdo it.
Whatever type of exercise you choose, make sure to take lots of breaks and drink
plenty of fluids. Slow down or stop if you get short of breath or feel uncomfortable.
If you have any questions about doing a sport or activity during your pregnancy, talk
to your health care provider.
It's important to get enough sleep
during your pregnancy. You'll probably feel more tired than usual. And as your baby
gets bigger, it will be harder to find a comfortable position when you're trying to
Lying on your side with your knees bent is likely to be the most comfortable position
as your pregnancy progresses. It also makes your heart's job easier because it keeps
the baby's weight from putting pressure on the large blood vessels that carry blood
to and from your heart and your feet and legs. Lying on your side can also help prevent
or reduce varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and swelling in your legs.
Some doctors specifically recommend that pregnant women sleep on the left side.
Because one of those big blood vessels is on the right side of your abdomen, lying
on your left side helps keep the uterus off of it. Lying on your left side helps blood
flow to the placenta and, therefore, your baby.
Ask what your health care provider recommends. In most cases, lying on either side
should do the trick and help take some pressure off your back. For a more comfortable
resting position either way, prop pillows between your legs, behind your back, and
underneath your belly.
Some Things to Avoid
When you're pregnant, what you don't put into your body (or expose your body to)
is almost as important as what you do. Here are some things to avoid:
Although it may seem harmless to have a glass of wine at dinner or a mug of beer
out with friends, no one has determined what's a "safe amount" of alcohol to consume
during pregnancy. One of the most common known causes of mental and physical birth
defects, alcohol can
cause severe abnormalities in a developing fetus.
Alcohol is easily passed along to the baby, who is less equipped to eliminate alcohol
than the mother. That means an unborn baby tends to develop a high concentration of
alcohol, which stays in the baby's system for longer periods than it would in the
mother's. And moderate alcohol intake, as well as periodic binge drinking, can damage
a baby's developing nervous system.
If you had a drink or two before you even knew you were pregnant (as many women
do), don't worry too much about it. But your best bet is to not drink any alcohol
at all for the rest of your pregnancy.
Pregnant women who use drugs may be placing their unborn babies at risk for premature
birth, poor growth, birth defects, and behavior and learning problems. And their babies
could also be born addicted to those drugs themselves.
If you're pregnant and using drugs, a health clinic such as Planned Parenthood
can recommend health care providers, at little or no cost, who can help you quit your
habit and have a healthier pregnancy.
If you've used any drugs at any time during your pregnancy, it's important to inform
your health care provider. Even if you've quit, your unborn child could still be at
risk for health problems.
Pregnant women who smoke pass nicotine and carbon monoxide to their growing babies.
The risks of this include:
Cut your consumption down to one or two cups a day.
Gradually reduce the amount of caffeine you get by combining decaffeinated coffee
with regular coffee.
Eventually try to cut out the regular coffee altogether.
And remember that caffeine is not limited to coffee. Many teas,
colas, and other soft drinks contain caffeine. Try switching to decaffeinated products
(which may still have some caffeine, but in much smaller amounts) or caffeine-free
If you're wondering whether chocolate, which also contains caffeine, is a concern,
the good news is that you can have it in moderation. Whereas the average chocolate
bar has anywhere from 5 to 30 milligrams of caffeine, there's 95 to 135 milligrams
in a cup of brewed coffee. So, small amounts of chocolate are fine.
Food Smarts & Other Precautions
Although you need to eat plenty of healthy foods during pregnancy, you also need
to avoid food-borne illnesses, such as listeriosis
and toxoplasmosis, which can be life-threatening to an unborn baby and may cause birth
defects or miscarriage.
Foods you'll want to steer clear of include:
soft, unpasteurized cheeses (often advertised as "fresh") such as feta, goat,
Brie, Camembert, and blue cheese
unpasteurized milk, juices, and apple cider
raw eggs or foods containing raw eggs, including mousse, tiramisu, raw cookie
dough, homemade ice cream, and Caesar dressing (although some store-bought brands
of the dressing may not contain raw eggs)
raw or undercooked meats, fish (sushi), or shellfish
processed meats such as hot dogs and deli meats (unless they are reheated until
Also, although fish and shellfish can be an extremely healthy part of your pregnancy
diet (they contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and are high in protein and low
in saturated fat), you should avoid eating:
tuna steak (bigeye or ahi)
These types of fish may contain high levels of mercury, which can cause damage
to the developing brain of a fetus. When you choose seafood, limit the total amount
to about 12 ounces per week — that's about two meals. Also, if you like canned
tuna, pay attention to the type in the can. Canned light tuna generally contains smaller
fish and can be eaten twice a week. But albacore/white tuna contains larger fish and
should only be eaten once per week. Check any local advisories before eating recreationally
Changing the Litter Box
Pregnancy is the prime time to get out of cleaning kitty's litter box. Why? Because
can be spread through soiled cat litter boxes and can cause serious problems, including
prematurity, poor growth, and severe eye and brain damage. A pregnant woman who becomes
infected often has no symptoms but can still pass the infection on to her developing
Over-the-Counter and Prescription Medicines
Even common over-the-counter medicines that are generally safe may be considered
off-limits during pregnancy because of their potential effects on the baby. And some
prescription medicines may also cause harm to the developing fetus.
To make sure you don't take anything that could be harmful to your baby:
Ask your health care provider which medicines — both over-the-counter and
prescription — are safe to take during pregnancy.
Talk to your health care provider about any prescription drugs you're taking.
Let all of your health care providers know that you're pregnant so that they'll
keep that in mind when recommending or prescribing any medicines.
Also remember to discuss natural remedies, supplements, and vitamins.
If you were prescribed a medicine before you became pregnant for an illness, disease,
or condition you still have, talk with your health care provider, who can help you
weigh potential benefits and risks of continuing your prescription.
If you become sick (e.g., with a cold) or have symptoms that are causing you discomfort
or pain (like a headache or backache), talk to your health care provider about medicines
you can take and alternative ways to help you feel better without medicine.
Healthy Pregnancy Habits: From Start to Finish
From the first week of your pregnancy to the fortieth, it's important to take care
of yourself so you can take care of your baby. Even though you have to take some precautions
and be ever-aware of how what you what you do — and don't do — may affect
your baby, many women say they've never felt healthier than during pregnancy.