Expecting a child is an exciting and sometimes scary experience for many women. Most books and online resources help women prepare psychologically for pregnancy and neglect physical preparation.
Physical preparation is equally important as the body needs to remain healthy throughout the pregnancy. Since pregnancy affects women differently, women must pay attention to the changes and know how to deal with them. Here are ways women can stay healthy during the nine months of pregnancy.
1. Go for Prenatal Care
Once you have confirmed you are pregnant, ask your health care adviser when you can schedule the first prenatal appointment. Unless you have a problem, the health care provider won’t schedule the appointment until the eighth week of pregnancy.
During the first appointment, the doctor determines how many weeks you have been pregnant and predicts the delivery date. He will then schedule subsequent appointments every month until the 28th week, then every two weeks until the 36th week of pregnancy. During the appointments, the health care provider checks on your blood pressure and weight while examining the growth of the baby. Be sure to choose a health care provider who can help you throughout the pregnancy journey. You can look for:
• A certified nurse-midwife: The professional specializes in women’s health needs including delivery, labor, prenatal and postpartum care
• Gynecologist/obstetrician (OBGYN): The doctor deals in childbirth and pregnancy
• Family practitioner: The professional provides a range of services including obstetrical care
Moderate exercise is essential for pregnant women as it aids in blood circulation, reduces stress, checks on weight gain, and strengthens muscles. Low-impact, aerobic activities like swimming and walking, enhance lung and heart activity and increase blood circulation.
Squats and kegel exercises are also ideal as they focus on strengthening the pelvic floor. The muscles grow weak due to the additional pressure exerted on them during pregnancy. A weak pelvic floor puts women at risk of developing stress incontinence, a condition that causes the body to release urine when they exercise, laugh, or sneeze.
Kegel exercises particularly help strengthen these muscles and maintain healthy muscle tone, which aids delivery and quick recovery after birth. Eight pelvic floor squeezes, thrice a day goes a long way in strengthening the pelvic floor. Be sure to change into the appropriate gear when going for exercise, not the regular maternity clothing to enhance comfort and flexibility during exercise.
3. Eat Healthy Foods
It’s natural to develop strange cravings and an unusually high appetite during pregnancy. This is no excuse for binging on ice cream, chocolate, fries and burgers, candy, and other unhealthy foods. Your baby needs nutrients to develop and grow.
Additionally, your diet affects fetal brain development, birth weight, and eliminates the risk of developing congenital disabilities. A well-balanced diet should provide vitamin C, proteins, fat, and minerals like calcium and iron. This means:
• Having a daily serving of protein in the form of eggs, fish, nuts, lean meat, or beans
• Taking five portions of vegetables and fruit every day
• Taking dairy foods like yogurt, milk, and cheese
• Eating starchy foods like rice, bread, and pasta. Carbohydrates should make up a third of the food, and whole grains are a healthier option
• If eating fish eat two portions every week. Sardines, salmon, and mackerel are excellent choices. If you are not a fan of fish, you can substitute it with soy products, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables
Note, you don’t need to increase the amount of food you eat for the first six months of pregnancy. However, during the last three months, you need to adjust your diet as the body needs 200 additional calories every day. Also, you need to keep hydrated (eight glasses a day) as the body needs more water during pregnancy to maintain healthy blood pressure.
4. Take Supplements
The supplements only add to the nutrients the body needs; they don’t substitute your diet. Some essential supplements pregnant women should take include:
a. Folic Acid
The CDC requires women of childbearing age, and those who are planning a pregnancy should take 400 mcg of folic acid supplements every day. Pregnant women are required to take the supplement within the first three months to reduce the risk of neural tube defects.
The neural tube is the first part of the fetus that forms within the first few weeks of pregnancy. As such, if it does not form properly, the baby is likely to develop a neural tube disease like spina bifida.
Iron is an essential component used to make hemoglobin (the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen). Expectant women need to take 30 mg of iron every day. A deficiency reduces the amount of oxygen transmitted to the organs and tissues. Some healthy iron-rich foods expectant women should take include red meat, tofu, salmon, dark poultry, dark leafy green vegetables, dried peas and beans, eggs, and iron-fortified cereals.
The body needs 1000 mg of calcium for active fetal bone development. Taking prenatal vitamins that contain calcium help supplement the mineral to the required amount. Some rich sources of calcium include:
• Dark green vegetables like kale, spinach, and broccoli
• Low-fat dairy products like yogurt, milk and pasteurized cheese
• Calcium-fortified products like soy milk, cereals, and orange juice
5. Cut out on Consumption of Alcohol and Drugs
Taking alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of your baby developing fetal alcohol syndrome. The condition causes the baby to be underweight and develop abnormalities in his central nervous system. Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy also leads to complications like stillbirth, miscarriage, and premature labor.
It would help if you also cut out on smoking as it is the leading cause of low birth-weight babies. Smoking is also associated with pregnancy complications like vaginal bleeding, premature placental detachment, ectopic pregnancy, and premature delivery.
Additionally, drugs like nicotine increase the risk of the baby developing sudden infant death syndrome, asthma, and other respiratory complications. If you are a coffee enthusiast, substitute it with a healthy beverage as it increases the risk of having a miscarriage.
Developing healthy habits early on not only improves a woman’s quality of life but also provides a healthy environment for the baby to grow. The points discussed should help you through the journey. Ask your doctor about any concerns you have during your appointments.