If you are expecting—or are hoping to be pregnant soon—you know there’s no time like the present to focus on your health. After all, everything you do for your own well-being right now affects your baby, too. Making a commitment to eating well, exercising regularly, and avoiding bad habits means giving your little one their best start. Here, I’ll walk you through some important tips for expecting mothers, focusing on health and wellness before, during, and after pregnancy. Take great care of your baby—and you, too!
Eating for Two
When you’re growing a whole new little person, the benefits of good nutrition cannot be overstated. A pregnancy diet emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains will help you stay healthy and strong. You’ll also be providing the nutrients your baby needs for proper growth and development. If you’re not yet pregnant, note that eating well now can help you to get there.
Important: “Eating for Two” does not mean you should double your portion sizes at every meal. The myth that expecting mothers can eat however much they want can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Packing on excess pounds can lead to a number of problems for baby and you, like gestational diabetes and hypertension. Your ob-gyn can help you determine your ideal pregnancy weight gain and how much you should be eating.
While I’m on the subject of eating, take note that certain foods are verboten while you’re expecting. Others are okay only in limited portions. For example, you’ll want to avoid unpasteurized milk and egg products, raw fish, and cold cuts to reduce your risk of listeria infection. It’s also important to choose low-mercury fish and seafood and to minimize your caffeine consumption. Some doctors will allow you to enjoy 1–2 small cups of coffee per day, so be sure to check with yours.
In addition to the foods experts recommend you avoid during pregnancy, you may find that some foods just don’t agree with you. If you’re more sensitive to heartburn and acid reflux while pregnant, you might try eliminating tomatoes, citrus fruits, spicy dishes, and chocolate. (Try carob in place of chocolate—it might satisfy your sweet tooth without the indigestion!) And you may avoid becoming constipated (a common woe of expecting mothers) by including high-fiber foods in your diet. Don’t forget, water has many benefits, so drink plenty o it.
Proper Prenatal Medical Care
For many women, pregnancy means more frequent visits to the doctor’s office than ever before. And while they may feel inconvenient and time-consuming, regular checkups with your ob-gyn are incredibly important. Here are a few great reasons to keep all those appointments:
- Your care team will monitor your weight and blood pressure to ensure you’re not developing any pregnancy complications, like pre-eclampsia.
- Prenatal ultrasounds can tell you and your doctor how your baby is doing on the inside. You’ll have the opportunity to learn the baby’s sex, if you choose, and your ob-gyn can monitor their development.
- You’ll have blood tests and screenings for common issues like gestational diabetes, which may significantly alter your care plan. Remember, it’s all to keep both you and baby safe!
- Your doctor will have good advice for staying safe and healthy and can answer any questions you may have.
Maternity care is a vital part of the pregnancy journey of expecting mothers. So if you feel the temptation to skip office visits here and there—resist it! Seeing your care provider is one way you can give your baby their best start.
Other Healthy Habits
If you’re following a great diet and going to all your checkups, you’re well on your way to a healthy pregnancy and baby. Here are a few more tips for your overall well-being in these exciting months:
- Make sure you’re getting adequate rest. If you’re feeling that textbook first-trimester exhaustion (or if it’s never gone away), take daytime naps, if you can. If your growing bump has made sleeping a challenge, try sleeping on your left side. Now is also a great time to try that pregnancy pillow you got at your baby shower.
- Make time for exercise to reduce your cortisol levels. A workout can bust stress, prevent excess weight gain, and improve your overall health during pregnancy and beyond. Check with your doctor before you get started, as certain pregnancy conditions can make exercising unsafe.
- Take a daily prenatal vitamin, per your care provider’s orders. Prenatals provide folic acid, which helps to prevent neural tube defects, like spina bifida, in the developing baby. You should ask your doctor whether you need omega-3 or calcium supplements, as well.
- Be sure to take care of your mental health, too. While this is an exciting time in your life, it can also be very stressful (and those hormones don’t help). Mental health care during pregnancy looks different for all expecting mothers. It may be that all you need is a weekly outing with your BFF or a long, relaxing shower (that isn’t too hot). Or it could be that you need regular care from an expert. Be sure to tell your doctor if you’re feeling depressed, anxious, or just not quite like yourself.
- Take care of yourself across all the dimensions of wellness. This is a good time to review the wellness wheel to see which areas need more attention.
The Postpartum Period and Beyond
Whether this is your first baby or your fifth, you’re probably anticipating a big shakeup in your routine very soon. It’s not easy to come home with a tiny, noisy human who relies on you for everything while you’re still recovering. Even if you have a relatively easy delivery, childbirth is exhausting—and so are newborns!
Good news: the healthy choices you make during pregnancy will continue to serve you in the “fourth trimester” and beyond. So stick to that balanced diet—it’ll provide you with much-needed energy and help you to shed any excess pounds. (It’s okay to enjoy sushi and deli turkey again, now that you’ve delivered your baby!) Keep doing your best to get adequate sleep, even if it means taking a nap when your baby naps. And continue to take your prenatal vitamins, which will provide key vitamins and minerals and will be helpful if you’re breastfeeding. (If you don’t want to continue to pay for an expensive prescription vitamin, check out OTC gummies. They can be a more affordable option, and they are delicious!)
Stay strong, healthy, and happy during this exciting time in your life so that you can enjoy it all. Congratulations!