Though pregnancy can be widely varied, and affects every woman differently, there are always some common areas to be aware of; namely things like diet, exercise, mental health, and antenatal care. This article aims to give you a simple rundown of the things to expect when you are expecting, to ensure you are well-informed for a happy, healthy pregnancy.
How Can You Ensure a Healthy Pregnancy?
A key area to pay attention to when you learn you are pregnant is your diet. Though the old myth of ‘eating for two’ has been disproven, you should be eating a little bit more to support your growing baby, and focusing on extra serves of the essential food groups. It is recommended, for instance, that you eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables for essential nutrients, as well as foods high in iron, calcium and fibre. These can include red meats and tofu, dairy products, and serves of wholegrains or cereals. As always, drink plenty of water, and try to limit your intake of foods high in salt, sugar or fat. You should also avoid any foods that may contain excess bacteria, such as soft cheeses, pate or raw eggs.
It should be expected that you will gain some weight when pregnant, and this is both normal and healthy. Being significantly overweight however, raises your risk of health problems such as high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and depression. Being underweight is also a potential problem, and can lead to greater risk of preterm birth, or a small baby. Your doctor will advise you on how much weight it is recommended you gain during pregnancy, as it varies between individuals. If your doctor thinks you are gaining weight above or below the recommended level, you can see a dietician.
In addition to proper diet, you should also engage in some daily physical activity, building up to anywhere between 150 and 300 minutes of moderately intense exercise a week. It’s best to avoid high-impact exercise that stresses your joints, such as contact sports or extended running, and to avoid the hottest parts of the day. Walking, swimming and cycling are good options, but you can talk to your doctor about what activities best suit you.
Finally, make sure you are up to date with your immunisations, particularly regarding rubella and chickenpox, which can cause serious complications with your baby. It is recommended to be vaccinated for both influenza and whooping cough during pregnancy, for the same reasons; and for the effect these illnesses can have on you.
What Should You Avoid While Pregnant?
Generally speaking, the things you should avoid while pregnant are the things that have the potential to affect your baby negatively, and most are fairly self-explanatory. For example, there is no safe amount of alcohol you can consume while pregnant, and you should avoid smoking or any similar inhalants. However, when it comes to food, things that ordinarily would be safe may pose unexpected risks to your baby. What might only affect you mildly will have a much more pronounced effect on a baby. As such, make sure meat is cooked thoroughly, vegetables and eggs are washed thoroughly, and you limit your consumption of foods high in salt or sugar.
Bacteria are a serious issue to be mindful of. Take care with foods that may cause salmonella or food poisoning, and avoid undercooked or raw foods. Some foods have a higher chance of carrying the bacteria listeria, which can harm unborn children. Infection with listeriosis is rare, but even a mild listeria infection can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or severe illnesses; it is better to be safe than sorry. Foods with an increased listeria risk include soft cheeses ripened with mould, pate, rockmelon, raw shellfish, cold cured meats and pre-packaged salads. Seek alternatives, such as homemade salads, other fruits, cooked seafoods or vegetarian options.
You do not have to entirely avoid caffeine, or allergenic foods, and having them in moderation is completely acceptable. Try to limit your caffeine intake to less than 200mg per day, and feel free to include foods such as peanuts in your diet. Excluding highly allergenic foods from your diet during pregnancy will not prevent allergies in your baby, but your health professional may advise you to avoid certain foods. Again, every pregnancy is different, so be sure to consult your doctor or dietician if you have any concerns or questions.
What Are Some Common Pregnancy Complications to be Aware of?
Even without the issues of infection or illness, many women still suffer from complications during pregnancy; everything from physical ailments to mental health struggles. It is important to remember in this time that you are not alone, and that no matter how uncomfortable or embarrassed you feel dealing with your problems, your friends, family and healthcare professionals will be there to support or advise you.
You might deal with nausea in the form of morning sickness, which usually occurs within the first trimester of pregnancy. Despite the name, it may last throughout the day or night, and is difficult to predict, but it can be mitigated. Consider eating smaller meals more often, avoiding spicy or fatty foods, drinking more water (or drinking before/after meals rather than during), or limiting protein-rich foods. You might also find relief in soda water or ginger/peppermint tea, which can help settle an upset stomach, or through deep breathing and regular rest breaks throughout the day. If your morning sickness is causing significant discomfort, or you are worried it is getting in the way of healthy eating, contact your doctor.
Other common discomforts can relate to the bladder or bowels, in the form of constipation, frequent urination, incontinence or haemorrhoids. You will likely not need to open your bowels for a few days after birth, but it is important to prevent constipation. Haemorrhoids are also likely during pregnancy, and these too will usually disappear within a few days. To minimise constipation, haemorrhoids, and discomfort, increase your intake of water, and of fibre (through foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, and wholemeal bread).
Sometimes, pregnant women will experience urine leakage from something as simple as a cough or sneeze, and while embarrassing, this is usually temporary and can be mitigated. Your pelvic floor muscles will relax slightly to prepare for the delivery of your baby, but you can help prevent their weakness through pelvic floor exercises. Firmly tense the muscles around your vagina and bottom as though you were trying to hold in gas. Hold these muscles as long as you can, before slowly relaxing and releasing them. Try not to squeeze your buttocks— you may have to try a few times to find the correct muscles. Attempt to perform at least twenty-five repetitions of this throughout the day, while standing or sitting.