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Staying Healthy During Pregnancy
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
To protect the health of your baby, be sure to get regular prenatal care. If you think you're pregnant, call your health care provider to schedule your first prenatal appointment. Often, the first visit will happen after 8 weeks of pregnancy unless there is a problem before then.
Medical Care and Testing During Pregnancy
At this first visit, your health care provider will probably do a pregnancy test, then figure out how many weeks pregnant you are based on a physical exam and the date of your last period. They'll also use this information to predict your delivery date (an ultrasound later in your pregnancy will help confirm that date).
If you're healthy and have 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
Your health care provider will regularly check your weight and blood pressure, and check 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). You'll also have prenatal 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: doctors who specialize in pregnancy and childbirth
- obstetricians/gynecologists (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 pregnancies without problems. There are other types of midwives, too, with different levels of training. Midwives often work together with doctors, but in some states they might work independently.
Nutrition and Supplements During Pregnancy
Now that you're eating for two (or more!), don't cut calories or go on a diet. Women who are pregnant with one baby need about 300–400 extra calories a day in the second trimester, and a little more in the third trimester. 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 take in fewer extra calories.
Healthy eating is always important, but especially when you're pregnant. So, make sure your calories come from nutritious foods that will boost your baby's growth and development, such as:
- lean meats
- whole-grain breads
- low-fat dairy products
Eating a healthy, balanced diet helps you 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 enough.
How Can I Get Enough Calcium During Pregnancy?
Women 19 and older need 1,000 mg of calcium a day for healthy bones and teeth. During pregnancy, your growing baby's calcium demands are high, so you'll need to get even more of it to prevent losing the mineral from your own bones.
Most prenatal vitamins contain some extra calcium, but dietary sources are also important. Good food 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
- dried beans
How Can I Get Enough Iron During Pregnancy?
Pregnant women need about 30 mg of iron every day. 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 work 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 include:
- red meat
- dark poultry
- enriched grains
- dried beans and peas
- dried fruits
- dark leafy green vegetables
- blackstrap molasses
- iron-fortified breakfast cereals
How Can I Get Enough Folate (Folic Acid) During Pregnancy?
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. Pregnant women should bump that up to 600 micrograms (0.6 milligrams).
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 tube defects.
The neural tube forms during the first several weeks of pregnancy, sometimes before a woman knows she's pregnant. It goes on to become the baby's developing brain and spinal cord. If it doesn't form properly, it can lead to a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.
Your health care provider can prescribe a prenatal vitamin that contains the right amount of folic acid. Some women may need more than 600 micrograms per day (for example, if they've 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. Check labels carefully before choosing one and talk to your health care provider.
Staying Hydrated During Pregnancy
It's important to drink plenty of liquids, especially water, during pregnancy. A woman's blood volume increases dramatically during pregnancy. Drinking enough water each day not only helps prevent dehydration, but also constipation, a common problem during pregnancy.
What Else Should I Know?
To take great care of yourself and your baby during your pregnancy, follow these basics:
It's also important to take precautions and know about:
Even though you have to stay aware of how what you do — and don't do — may affect your baby, many women say they've never felt healthier than during pregnancy.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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Images sourced by The Nemours Foundation and Getty Images.