Pregnancy is an ideal time to start taking really good care of yourself both physically and emotionally. If you follow the few simple guidelines below, you should give yourself the best chance of having a problem-free pregnancy and a healthy baby.
1. See your doctor or midwife as soon as possible
As soon as you find out you’re pregnant, get in touch with your GP or a midwife to organise your antenatal care. 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 any ultrasound scans and tests that you may need.
2. Eat well
Aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet whenever you can. Try to have:
- At least five portions of fruit and vegetables daily.
- Plenty of carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta and rice, as the basis of your meals. Choose wholegrain carbohydrates rather than white, so you get plenty of fibre.
- Daily servings of protein, such as fish, lean meat, eggs, nuts or pulses, and some milk and dairy foods.
- Two portions of fish a week, at least one of which should be oily. Fish is packed with protein, vitamin D, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the development of your baby’s nervous system.
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 need about an extra 200 calories a day. You can keep up your energy levels with healthy snacks.
See our pregnancy meal planners for each trimester.
3. Take a supplement
Pregnancy vitamin supplements aren’t a substitute for a balanced diet. But they can help if you’re worried you’re not eating well, or you’re too sick to eat much.
Make sure your supplement contains 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid. You need this while you’re trying for a baby and for the first three months of pregnancy. Taking folic acid reduces the risk of your baby developing a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.
Also, check that your supplement contains 10mcg of vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for your baby’s future bone health.
Talk to your GP or a pharmacist before taking an antenatal supplement. If you don’t take a multivitamin for pregnant women, you can buy folic acid and vitamin D supplements separately.
If you’re on a low income, you might be able to get pregnancy vitamin supplements free of charge under the government’s healthy start scheme. Go to www.healthystart.nhs.uk for more information.
If you don’t eat fish, fish oil supplements may be helpful. Choose a supplement made from the body of the fish, not the liver. This is because fish liver oils (such as cod liver oil) may contain the retinol form of vitamin A, which isn’t recommended in pregnancy.
4. Be careful about food hygiene
There are some foods it’s safest not to eat in pregnancy. This is because they can carry a health risk for your baby.
Listeriosis is an infection caused by listeria bacteria. It’s rare and doesn’t usually pose a threat to your health. However, it can cause pregnancy or birth complications. Listeriosis can even lead to miscarriage.
The following foods may harbour listeria and so are best avoided:
- pate of any type
- unpasteurised milk
- undercooked ready meals
- soft, mould-ripened cheeses, such as brie
- blue-veined cheeses, such as roquefort
As listeria bacteria are destroyed by heat, make sure you heat ready meals thoroughly.
Salmonella can cause food poisoning. You can catch it from eating:
- undercooked poultry
- Is it safe to eat soft-boiled or raw eggs during pregnancy?
Cook eggs until the white and yolk are solid. Thoroughly wash utensils, boards and your hands after handling raw poultry. Food hygiene is especially important now you’re pregnant. Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite. It’s also rare, but it can affect your unborn baby. You can cut down your risk of catching it by:
- cooking meat and ready meals thoroughly
- washing fruit and vegetables well to remove soil or dirt
- wearing gloves when handling cat litter and garden soil
5. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise has many benefits for mums-to-be. It can:
- Build your strength and endurance. This may help you to cope better with the extra weight of pregnancy and the hard work of labour.
- Make it easier for you to get back into shape after your baby is born.
- Boost your spirits and even help to ward off depression.
Good exercise choices for pregnancy include:
- brisk walking
- aquanatal classes
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 GP if you’re unsure.
6. Begin doing pelvic floor exercises
Your pelvic floor comprises a hammock 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 upon 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 small amounts of urine leak out when you sneeze, laugh or exercise.
Strengthening your muscles by doing pelvic floor exercises regularly throughout your pregnancy can help. Having a toned pelvic floor may help your baby’s birth go more smoothly too. You’ll feel the benefit if do eight pelvic floor squeezes, three times a day.
7. Cut out alcohol
Any alcohol you drink rapidly reaches your baby via your blood stream and 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 alcohol during the first trimester, as drinking during this stage can increase your risk of miscarriage. If you do decide to drink after your first trimester, stick to no more than one 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
Coffee, tea, cola and energy drinks are mild stimulants. There are concerns that too much caffeine may increase your risk of miscarriage. It’s also thought possible that too much caffeine may contribute to your risk of having a low-birth-weight baby.
Current guidelines state that up to 200mg of caffeine a day won’t hurt your 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. These risks include an increased risk of:
- premature birth
- low birth weight
- cot death (SIDS)
Smoking may even be associated with the loss of a baby at birth.
Smoking makes the following pregnancy complications more likely:
- Nausea and vomiting (morning sickness).
- Ectopic pregnancy.
- Placental abruption, where the placenta comes away from the uterus 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.
Ask your GP or midwife to help you with ways to give up. You can also call the confidential NHS pregnancy smoking helpline on 0800 1699 169 or visit www.gosmokefree.nhs.uk.
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 your body’s way of telling you to slow down.
If you can’t sleep at night, try to take a quick nap in the middle of the day 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 wind down ready for bed, try relaxation techniques, which are safe in pregnancy, such as:
- deep breathing
Always let your exercise teacher know that you’re pregnant or, ideally, choose classes tailored to pregnant women.