12 Essential Steps to a Safe, Healthy Pregnancy
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Going from taking care of yourself to taking care of yourself and your growing baby during pregnancy entails a bit more, well, care. It can be overwhelming to consider. Here are the 12 essential tips for a safe and healthy pregnancy.
1. Start well
You can prepare for a healthy pregnancy before you are even pregnant or start infertility treatment. Two main things you can do beforehand are:
- Find the right health care provider for your prenatal care and have a preconception visit.
You want to find someone who respects you and sees birth in a similar way. If you already know you are signing up for an epidural or even a scheduled birth, you’ll want to find an OB who respects that choice. If you want to have a natural home birth, you’ll want to find an experienced midwife with whom you are comfortable; you’ll be spending quite a bit of time with her.
You may already know your health care provider because you see an OB/GYN who you already like. Or you may need to find someone new which could take some time. Ask around based on what type of birth experience you envision.
During your preconception visit, you’ll likely review your current health and medications and go over your history. Perhaps you’ll even discuss your birth preferences.
- Remain or start getting healthy. Take a prenatal vitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid. Stop smoking, drinking alcohol and/or using recreational drugs.
2. Eat well
They say you’re eating for two but that doesn’t mean you need to double your calories. You only need to increase your calories by about 300 a day. You want those calories to be nutrient filled. You also need plenty of protein; a whopping 70 grams compared to 45 grams prior to beginning your healthy pregnancy.
Part of eating well is staying away from potentially dangerous food items. Experts say to stay clear of undercooked meat or eggs, unpasteurized dairy or juice, cold deli meats, raw seafood and fish with high levels of mercury.
Eating lots of mini meals throughout the day may help with nausea and heartburn while also keeping your blood sugar level even.
3. Drink well
The best liquid to drink? Water. You need plenty of water to support your increased blood volume.
Limit your caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams a day (about 12 ounces of regular coffee). Caffeine has no nutritional value, makes it harder for your body to absorb needed iron, contributes to heartburn, increases trouble sleeping and can cause headaches. Plus a 2008 study showed women who consumed 200 milligrams of caffeine a day doubled the risk of a miscarriage compared to those with no caffeine.
If you do have a daily coffee habit, cut back or switch to decaf. Keep all the other drinks and products that contain caffeine into account too.
Drinking alcohol increases your risk for a low-birth weight baby, childhood learning ability, miscarriage and stillbirth so it’s best to completely avoid alcohol. If you do drink, the alcohol crosses the placenta from your bloodstream quickly and your baby can end up with a higher level of blood alcohol than you.
4. Sleep well
Many pregnant women report feeling exhausted during the first and third trimesters, sometimes throughout the whole pregnancy. If you feel tired, your body is telling you to slow down. Take it easy. Take naps if you can or just sit down and rest with your pregnancy book or magazine.
If you are having trouble sleeping at night, another common pregnancy complaint, sometimes it’s a matter of finding the right position or even a more comfortable mattress. You can also try relaxation techniques before bed like yoga, stretching, meditation and massage.
5. Move well
But not too much resting, you need your exercise too. Having a strong heart and lungs will help you get through that marathon called giving birth.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says pregnant women should exercise a at least of 30 minutes a day six or seven days a week, assuming they are medically cleared to do so. Regular stretching and exercise can relieve backaches, constipation, morning sickness, improve circulation, not to mention help you have the endurance to carry the extra weight of your baby through the pregnancy. Plus staying in shape during a healthy pregnancy helps you get back into shape faster after your baby’s birth.
Pilates, yoga, swimming and walking are all great activities for most pregnant women. Pay attention to your body to not overdue it.
6. Gain Well
Exercise and eating well will also help you control your weight gain. Adding to many extra pounds will make it harder to lose later. Current guidelines from the Institute of Medicine for weight gain say if you are currently:
- Underweight: Gain 28-40 pounds
- Normal weight: Gain 25-35 pounds
- Overweight: Gain 15-25 pounds
- Obese: Gain 11-20 pounds
“Research is showing that most women gain too much weight during pregnancy,” says Raul Artal, M.D., professor and chairman of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Gaining too much weight can put a pregnant mom at risk for complications during pregnancy and during labor.
Get your guide about safer driving practices for during pregnancy
7. Drive well
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death and injury for pregnant women. This is a major concern because studies show an estimated 3,000 pregnancies are lost every year due to car crashes. That is 8 unborn babies a day who die in a car crash.
It’s extremely important to wear your seat belt. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends wearing the seat belt as low as possible and make sure the shoulder portion is midshoulder/midchest. A study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found pregnant drivers who do not wear a seat belt when involved in a car crash are nearly three times more likely to experience a fetal death and twice as likely to experience excessive internal bleeding, compared to pregnant drivers who wore safety belts.
While generally protected if you wear your seat belt and somewhat by the cushioning your body offers, even NHTSA warns that the lap belt can cause injuries to the baby while it does it’s job properly securing you within your seat. You can reduce this risk by using a crash tested pregnancy seat belt positioner like the Tummy Shield. Be aware there are some pregnancy seat belt adjusters that are not crash tested and/or will not hold up to the amount of energy in a crash so research them carefully.
8. Clean well
Everyday tasks like cleaning can be risky if you’re being exposed to toxic chemicals. Use natural green cleaners when possible and leave the other cleaning to someone else. Other things to take off your to do list include:
- Cleaning the cat litter
- Renovate an old house
- Lift heavy items
- Clean or do anything else that requires climbing on stepstools or ladders
- Anything that requires you to stand for long periods of time
9. Stress well
Pregnancy can be an emotional roller coaster. With all the hormones raging inside don’t be surprised when you cry during a car commercial for seemingly no reason. It’s not just the hormones becoming a mom is a major life change that you luckily have 9 months to prepare for but can still be daunting.
Surround yourself with support from your partner, family, friends, coworkers and healthcare provider during the pregnancy and during labor.
Take precautions to relieve stress continuously with yoga, meditation, hot (but not too hot) baths, walks, whatever healthy ways you can reduce your stress. Sexual intimacy is a great stress reliever that you can enjoy all the way through until you give birth as long as you don’t have risk factors for premature labor or other complications.
If you find yourself in slump you just can’t get out of, share what you are feeling with your caregiver and perhaps get a referral for professional help. Statistics show one of 10 women experiences depression during pregnancy.
10. Learn well
You will likely read the pregnancy bible aka What to Expect When You’re Expecting, a lot of pregnancy books and magazines especially if this is your first time expecting. It’s fascinating to learn about the baby’s development as you go through your healthy pregnancy.
Educating yourself about pregnancy will also help you see potential red flags. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention you should call your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:
- Dizziness or fainting
- Shortness of breath
- Vaginal bleeding or leaking of fluid
- Unexplained rapid heartbeat or heart palpatations
- Pain or burning during urination
- Consistent nausea and vomiting
- Trouble walking
- Decreased fetal activity for more than 24 hours
- Strong cramps
11. Prepare well
Nine months seems like a long time at the start but the end comes up fast. 4-5 months before your due date, you should start attending a birthing class. This will help you feel more prepared for delivery especially if your first baby. There are several methods available so research based on the type of birth you would like to have and what feels most comfortable for you.
This process will help you write a birth plan. A birth plan provides the answers for nurse staff and attendants during your labor process without having to actually ask you. It describes things like who you want to be allowed in, what procedures you are OK with and what you absolutely do not want, and what types of accoutrements you want available during labor.
While having a birth plan is helpful, know that when it comes time it may go out the window. This can happen for various reasons from a complication arises to you are in the throes of labor and suddenly realize you don’t like back rubs from your spouse. Who’d a thunk?!
12. Last but not least, Indulge well
You may have a list a mile long of things you want to have done before baby comes and you may be working full time so you may wonder when will I be able to indulge myself? Well, not for many, many years if you don’t do it now.
If your time is limited now, just wait until you have an infant to attend to. You’ll few precious moments to yourself once baby arrives so take advantage of whatever time you have to treat yourself to some me time now.
Got questions about what’s safe during pregnancy; like is sex safe during pregnancy?
We want to know, what other tips do you have for expecting moms? Share your comments below.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
Copyright 2020 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.
We originally published this post in May 2018. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.