Steps to a Healthy Pregnancy
1. See your doctor or midwife as soon as possible
As soon as you find out you’re pregnant, get yourself registered for antenatal care. Make an appointment with your GP or a midwife at your local surgery or children’s centre. Or register online with your local maternity service.
Organising your care early means you’ll get good advice for a healthy pregnancy right from the start. You’ll also have plenty of time to organise your diary for ultrasound scans and tests that you may need.
2. Eat well
Aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet whenever you can. This means having:
- At least five portions of fruit and vegetables daily. Fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juice all count.
- Starchy foods (carbohydrates), such as bread, pasta and rice. Carbohydrates need to make up just over a third of what you eat. Choose wholegrain varieties rather than white, so you get plenty of fibre.
- Daily servings of protein, such as fish, lean meat, eggs, beans, nuts or pulses.
- Dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt.
- Two portions of fish a week, at least one of which should be oily, such as salmon, sardines or mackerel.
Fish is full of protein, vitamin D, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for the development of your baby’s nervous system.
If you don’t like fish, you can get omega-3 fatty acids from other foods, such as nuts, seeds, soya products and green leafy vegetables.
You don’t need to eat for two when you’re pregnant. You don’t need extra calories for the first six months of pregnancy.
In the last three months you’ll only need another 200 calories a day.
Stay well hydrated too. The amount of water in your body increases during pregnancy to help you maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
Try to have about eight glasses of fluid, such as water, fruit teas, skimmed or semi-skimmed milk or fresh fruit juice every day.
3. Take a supplement
You need to take folic acid for at least the first three months and vitamin D for the whole of your pregnancy and beyond.
Taking folic acid reduces the risk of your baby developing a neural tube defect such as spina bifida. Some women need to take a higher dose of 5mg per day, so check with your GP or midwife what the best dose is for you.
You also need a daily supplement of 10mcg of vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for the development of your baby’s skeleton and future bone health.
If you’re worried you’re not eating well, or you’re too sick to eat much, you may want to take your folic acid and vitamin D in a multivitamin.
If your diet is good but you don’t eat fish, you could take a fish oil supplement. Choose a supplement labelled omega-3 oil rather than fish liver oil. This is because fish liver oils, such as cod liver oil, may contain the retinol form of vitamin A, which may harm your unborn baby.
Talk to your GP, midwife or a pharmacist before taking supplements, other than the necessary folic acid or vitamin D. It’s always better to have a balanced diet, if you can, rather than relying on multivitamins.
4. Be careful about food hygiene
Thoroughly wash utensils, boards and your hands after handling raw meat. Store raw foods separately from ready-to-eat foods. Food hygiene is especially important now you’re pregnant.
There are also some foods it’s safest not to eat in pregnancy. This is because they can harbour bacteria or parasites that pose a health risk for your baby.
Listeriosis is an infection caused by listeria bacteria. Although it’s rare for pregnant women to be affected by it, it can have serious effects. Listeriosis can lead to miscarriage, a baby being seriously ill after birth, or even being stillborn.
5. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise has many benefits for you, and therefore your baby.
Doing gentle exercise:
- Helps you to cope with changes to your posture and strains on your joints during pregnancy.
- Helps you to stay a healthy weight, although it’s normal to put on some weight during pregnancy.
- Helps to protect you against pregnancy complications, such as high blood pressure.
- Increases your chance of a straightforward labour and birth.
- Makes it easier for you to get back into shape after your baby is born.
- Boosts your mood if you’re feeling low.
Good exercises for pregnancy include:
- brisk walking
- aquanatal classes
Always let your exercise teacher know that you’re pregnant or, ideally, choose classes tailored to pregnant women.
If you play sport, you can continue as long as it feels comfortable for you. However, if your particular sport carries a risk of falls or knocks, or extra stress on your joints, it’s best to stop. Talk to your midwife or GP if you’re unsure.
6. Begin doing pelvic floor exercises
Your pelvic floor comprises a basket of muscles at the base of your pelvis. These muscles support your bladder, vagina and back passage. They can feel weaker than usual in pregnancy because of the extra pressure on them. Pregnancy hormones can also cause your pelvic floor to slacken slightly.
Weak pelvic floor muscles put you at risk of developing stress incontinence. This is when you leak urine when you sneeze, laugh or exercise.
Strengthening your muscles by doing pelvic floor exercises, or Kegels, regularly throughout your pregnancy will help. You’ll feel the benefit if you do eight pelvic floor squeezes, three times a day.
7. Cut out alcohol
Any alcohol you drink rapidly reaches your baby via your bloodstream and the placenta.
There is no way to know for sure how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy. That’s why many experts advise you to cut out alcohol completely while you’re expecting.
It’s particularly important to avoid too much alcohol during the first trimester and the third trimester.
In the first trimester, drinking alcohol can increase your risk of miscarriage, while in the third trimester it can affect your baby’s brain development.
It’s recommended that you avoid alcohol completely in the first trimester. If you decide to drink after this stage, stick to no more than one unit or two units of alcohol, no more than once or twice a week.
Drinking heavily or binge drinking during pregnancy is especially dangerous for your baby.
Mums-to-be who drink heavily on a regular basis are more likely to give birth to a baby with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). These are problems ranging from learning difficulties to more serious birth defects.
8. Cut back on caffeine
Too much caffeine may increase your risk of miscarriage. Caffeine is in coffee, tea, cola, chocolate and energy drinks.
Some experts have suggested that too much caffeine may contribute to your risk of having a low-birth-weight baby, although more research is needed to be sure.
Current guidelines state that up to 200mg of caffeine a day won’t cause harm to your developing baby. That’s the equivalent of two mugs of instant coffee.
As with alcohol, you may prefer to cut out caffeine altogether, particularly in the first trimester. Decaffeinated tea and coffee, fruit teas and fruit juices are all safe alternatives.
9. Stop smoking
Smoking during pregnancy can cause serious health problems for you and your baby. Smoking increases your baby’s risk of:
- premature birth
- low birth weight
- sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or “cot death”
Smoking also makes the following pregnancy complications more likely:
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Placental abruption, where the placenta comes away from the womb wall before your baby is born
If you smoke, it’s best to stop, for your own health and that of your baby. The sooner you stop smoking, the better, but it’s never too late.
Even stopping in the last few weeks of your pregnancy can benefit you both. Watch a video about how smoke reaches your unborn baby.
10. Get some rest
The fatigue you feel in the first few months is due to high levels of pregnancy hormones circulating in your body.
Later on, it’s more likely to be because you’re getting up in the night to go to the loo or not being able to get comfortable in bed.
If your sleep is disturbed at night, try to take a quick nap in the middle of the day or go to bed early to catch up. If that’s impossible, at least put your feet up and try to relax for 30 minutes.
If backache is disturbing your sleep, try lying on your left-hand side with your knees bent. Placing a wedge-shaped pillow under your bump may help ease the strain on your back.
Exercise may also give you some relief from backache. It can help with sleep problems, too, as long as you don’t exercise too close to bedtime.
To unwind before going to bed, or to get back to sleep during the night, try a relaxation technique, such as:
- deep breathing