Pregnant? It’s All the More Important to Take Care of Health
Congratulations – you are creating another human being when you are pregnant and you surely look forward to welcoming the new baby. Be careful – pregnant women are bombarded with lots of information, often conflicting, about their health. Thanks to increasing internet connectivity there is greater access to knowledge, all of which may not be right for you.
Considering that from the dawn of time women have been conceiving and giving birth in all kinds of situations, you would think that the process is organic and natural. While increased healthcare and advances in medicine have resulted in decreased childbirth mortality it is not a secret that pregnancy does take a toll on women’s health.
If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you should start taking care of your health so that you stay well and fit and your baby, too, is healthy.
Diet During Pregnancy
You don’t need to eat for two, even in the later stages of your pregnancy. In fact, if you suffer from morning sickness initially, you may even lose weight, particularly if you cannot hold any food down. While it is important to follow a nutritious and healthy diet when pregnant, if you are overweight, it is best not to follow any kind of weight loss diet, except under doctor’s or nutritionist’s advice, and that too with careful monitoring. Among the diet must-haves are
- Get enough calcium – pregnancy can deplete calcium stores in the body, so most doctors do prescribe a calcium supplement during pregnancy. You probably need around 1000 mg of calcium daily. So whether or not you take a calcium tablet, do take calcium rich foods like milk, cheese, yoghurt, certain green vegetables, seafood and beans. In case you are lactose intolerant, talk to your doctor about how you can up your calcium intake.
- Vitamins are essential – while you can always take vitamin supplements for pregnancy, you should also increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. These not only provide vitamins and minerals, but also contain anti-oxidants, phytonutrients and micro nutrients that may not be bioavailable from a supplement.
- Folic Acid is important for baby’s development – most doctors do prescribe a supplement for this. Vitamin D is also essential, so if you are not getting enough sunlight, then take a supplement as it is required for the availability of calcium in the body.
- Iron is necessary for the blood, both yours and the developing baby’s – you may require between 22 and 27 mg of iron daily. The best source of iron is red meat and to a lesser extent green leafy vegetables, beans and iron enriched foods. If you are anemic or borderline, talk to your doctor about getting a supplement.
- Proteins – eat protein rich foods since protein is the building block of life. Fortunately, when you have calcium and iron rich foods, they usually contain protein (dairy, meats and legumes).
- Carbohydrates – eat complex carbohydrates and whole grains instead of processed food items. This is the time to avoid refined flour products and junk foods that are high in carbs. Avoid or cut out refined sugar.
- Fats – healthy fats can provide you with the required calories. Some amount of cream, butter, olive oil or cold pressed oils should be part of your pregnancy diet.
Other important nutrients you should get are zinc, DHA (an Omega 3 Fatty Acid), Vitamin C and iodine, important for the thyroid hormone.
When you are eating outside, avoid salads and uncooked foods including those that are kept at room temperature or even refrigerated for some time like sushi, sashimi, cold meats, packaged and ready to eat vegetable and fruit salads, unpasteurized cheeses, raw eggs, certain fish (that may be high in mercury) and even unpasteurized raw milk. This is to avoid any risk of food poisoning that can be harmful to your and baby’s health.
It is also best to eat proper meals in a relaxed atmosphere and snack when you feel hungry on healthy snacks. When you take care of your diet, you will stay healthy and the baby will develop as it should.
Fitness When Pregnant
In case you already follow an exercise regime, you may continue it as long as your doctor allows you to do so, depending on your health. Some women who have risk factors during pregnancy may need to play safe under doctor’s advice. For instance if you have a history of miscarriages or have resorted to assisted reproduction techniques, your doctor may give your specific guidance as to the level of activity and exercise permitted.
Exercising when pregnant will help
- Strengthen muscles requires for carrying the additional weight the pregnancy puts on your body
- Make labor pains more bearable
- Get you back in shape after delivery
- Improve mood
- Reduce stress
- Decrease the risk of certain pregnancy related complications
- Manage weight gain
If you are otherwise healthy, it is best to stay active. At least half an hour of physical activity a day, every day if possible, is routinely recommended by gynecologists. If you go to a gym, it is best to tell the trainer that you are pregnant so that you can do the right exercises to help you. Otherwise it is usually safe to go swimming, indulge in light sporting activities and go for walks.
There are specific exercises that can help strengthen the muscles required during labor, in case you opt for natural childbirth. Make sure that you opt for low impact exercises and avoid those activities or sports that involve any possible impact on the abdomen. For the same reasons you should avoid horseback riding, gymnastics or any other activity or exercise that may cause you to fall accidently. You can also join exercise classes for pregnant women.
Emotional Health When Pregnant
One of the first signs of pregnancy (apart from cessation of periods) is mood swings that do not go away. That is because of hormone levels. Higher levels of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG), estrogen and progesterone are what are responsible for the nausea and vomiting associated with early pregnancy. These hormones can contribute to mood swings, tiredness, emotional outbursts and more.
In order to manage mood swings, it is important to listen to your body and get enough rest when your body tells you that you need to take a nap or sleep. You can also get support from family and friends, online support and this social interaction can help you in managing your emotional health during pregnancy.
At the same time, you will find yourself busier than usual preparing for baby’s arrival, getting the initial requirements together, getting space for the baby ready and more. Instead of taking it as a stress, take it as a relaxing activity. During the course of your pregnancy, you will also require looser and bigger clothes – keep in mind that you may be wearing for some time even after baby is born as you will not be able to lose weight immediately.
You may also doubt your abilities to take care of the baby and the impact the new born will have on your life and your relationships. You may feel overwhelmed at times, particularly towards the end of your pregnancy as to your ability to cope. This is the time to take help when available, whether it is your husband, parents, in-laws, siblings or friends. Or you may be able to hire some part time help if you can afford it when baby is born.
Regular Doctor Visits During Pregnancy
It is best that your ob-gyn monitor your pregnancy even if you are fit and healthy. So make the scheduled visits as often as you are called. You will usually need to go once a month till 28 weeks, then twice a month till 36 weeks and after that every week, unless there are special circumstances. At different times, you may have to undergo blood tests and, in advanced countries, your doctor will probably perform a sonography to check that everything is going well.
Your doctor will also do a physical check-up, hear the heartbeat (after a few months) and you can generally ask any questions you have. It is also a good idea to talk to your doctor about kind of delivery you would ideally like to have if all goes well – natural, with or without painkillers or an epidural and find out how long you need to be in hospital. Of course when you actually go into labor the situation may change and you should be comfortable with your doctor and have confidence in him or her.
You should also find out what you need to be careful of during the course of the pregnancy that necessitates checking in with the doctor. If you do get sick during pregnancy, you will need to go to a physician for prescription medicines if required as many drugs are contraindicated during this time. In case you have a risky pregnancy, there will be different protocols in place.
What You Should Not Do During Pregnancy
While there are many instructions for you to follow during pregnancy regarding diet and fitness for a healthy pregnancy, there are also some things that are best avoided or reduced and a few that are forbidden.
Limit your intake of coffee – caffeine is not good for health and you should limit your intake of caffeine to 200 mg a day. Have decaf if you must. Caffeine is also in energy drinks, some sodas and chocolate as well as some anti-allergy medicines. It inhibits the absorption of iron and increases the risk of miscarriage.
Give up smoking – every cigarette you have increased the risk of low birth weight, premature birth and developmental problems in the baby. Also, avoid second-hand smoke, so don’t be around smokers.
Eliminate alcohol – scientific research suggests that you avoid even wine during pregnancy, even though it has a low alcohol content. Even small amounts of alcohol reach the baby via the placenta and can result in birth defects and various problems including premature delivery, miscarriage, and stillbirth. Alcohol can result in the baby being born with fetal alcohol syndrome. When alcohol is known to cause physical and functional damage to the baby, why take a risk by having any?
Eliminate soft and hard drugs – whether you use them recreationally and occasionally or habitually, things like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, LSD, PCP, meth and other drugs are totally forbidden during pregnancy. They can cause birth defects, developmental problems, premature delivery, miscarriage and put you in risk of prison time. Babies born to women who take drugs may be born addicted to the drugs as well.
Sleep and Relaxation When Pregnant
At certain times during your pregnancy, you may find sleeping uncomfortable. In the early stages you may feel quite sleepy, so if you can manage it do doze off during the day. Many women are active throughout their pregnancies and do not feel much different. However, as the baby grows you may suffer from a backache and muscle pains and find it difficult to sleep in your usual position. You can use special sleeping pillows or use cushions that will help support the extra weight and keep you comfortable.
Don’t take any extra and avoidable stress during your pregnancy. The latest research suggests that babies are affected by everything their mothers do. To avoid stressful events like job changes, increased workload, relationship problems (that can be aggravated by hormonal changes) and do your best to stay calm and focused.
Indulge in soothing and calming activities like listening to music, reading, watching movies, going to gardens and parks and taking in fresh air and sunshine, meeting friends, shopping and whatever calms you down. If you plan to go for a babymoon, check with your doctor about your travel plans. Usually, it is safe to fly in the middle three months or the second trimester.
Just remember that you have to take care of yourself first and make sure that your baby grows healthy and is normal and you have a safe delivery. Do whatever that is required to make it happen, taking better care of your physical, mental and even financial health at this time so that you give birth to a healthy and beautiful baby and become a mother.