Are you the type who wants to stack the deck to make sure you’re having a healthy pregnancy? Are you looking for any hints that will nudge the odds in your favor that both you and your baby will be just fine?
If so, you’re not alone. When I was pregnant, I was looking for every little thing I could do to give me an edge that things would turn out fine. While some things are out of our control, you really can improve your odds of having a healthy pregnancy if you watch your behavior and habits.
If you see yourself as a mama bear who will undertake any challenge to give your baby the best start it can have, read our 20 tips and start implementing them as soon as possible.
Isn’t a Healthy Pregnancy Out of Your Hands?
Healthy pregnancies can seem to be the luck of the draw — and sometimes they are. We’ve all heard stories about women who don’t even realize they’re pregnant and haven’t had one single pregnancy check-up having a perfectly healthy baby.
And then other mothers do everything right and still face some of the toughest challenges they’ll ever have to.
Pregnancy, like life, is not always fair.
Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, you won’t have a healthy pregnancy. And you should never beat yourself up about that. It can be entirely out of your control.
But Don’t Give Up
Some birth defects, for instance, are avoidable. And they’re a big problem in the U.S., affecting one out of every 33 babies (source). These birth defects cost families a lot of money, and even worse, they can have life-altering consequences for the babies involved and their families.
Spinal cord birth defects are believed to be preventable around 70 percent of the time (source). Other birth defects can be prevented as well. And with the frequency, they occur and the severity they can have, you should do everything you can to avoid them.
While you’ll never completely be able to eliminate your risk, you should do what you can to lessen it. Even if only a few pregnancies a year are healthier because of the tips we give in this article, it’s still worth the effort of trying. You never know when you’ll be one of the lucky ones to ward off any potential problems just by trying.
When Should I Start Focusing on a Healthy Pregnancy?
Many women don’t start concentrating on healthy pregnancy habits until they find out they are pregnant. But, if you’re planning a pregnancy, it’s best to start those habits before conception.
Some habits, like taking prenatal vitamins, should be started a couple of weeks before you start trying for a baby. That’s because the vitamins your baby needs, like folic acid, to get off to a good, healthy start will already be available in your body then.
Your baby’s major organs are already formed by the 10th week of pregnancy, and you might not know you’re pregnant until the sixth week of pregnancy. That doesn’t give you much time to start taking those vitamins before your baby’s basic structure is already in place.
And, likewise, you should also do other important things, like giving up unnecessary medications and avoiding alcohol before you get pregnant.
Prenatal Health Care
Prenatal health care can be critical for having a healthy baby and a better pregnancy for you.
1. Make and Keep Your Prenatal Care Appointments
Your doctor’s appointments are a huge factor in the health and outcome of your pregnancy. If you don’t make and keep your appointments, you run the risk of having something go wrong in your pregnancy that might have been easy to take care of if you were seeing your doctor.
You don’t want to put your health or your baby’s safety at risk so that you don’t have to make a handful of trips to the doctor’s office.
2. Go to a Childbirth Class
Learning what to expect and how to control your breathing can help you healthily manage your pregnancy. You might need less medication or even none during your labor if you learn the ropes at childbirth class (source).
3. Don’t Be Shy About Calling Your Doctor
It can be tempting to bury your head in the sand when things start to go wrong. Sometimes that’s easier than the fear of addressing your problems and realizing that things are off.
Some women have trouble asking for help when they need it, and others don’t like to make a big deal out of something that potentially isn’t a problem to begin with. For that reason, women can be hesitant to call their doctors when they have a question.
But pregnancy isn’t a time to be meek or timid — it’s a time to make sure you’re doing everything right for your baby. Practice that assertiveness because you’re going to need it as a parent. If you have a question, call your doctor and ask it, with no apologies. Remember, two lives are counting on you.
Nutrition and Supplements
Getting your baby a steady supply of crucial nutrients and vitamins is one of the key components of a healthy pregnancy. Remember, your baby will take what it needs from your body so it benefits you to make sure you’re chock full of vitamins too.
4. Take a Prenatal Vitamin
If you are planning to get pregnant, you should begin taking a prenatal vitamin before you actively start trying. Getting that folic acid in your body so it’s available to your baby as soon as they are conceived can help prevent neural tube birth defects like spina bifida (source).
In addition to the folic acid, the other vitamins and minerals in these vitamins, like iron and calcium, will also be needed in greater supply in your body during pregnancy.
5. Eat Healthy
You’re going to face a lot of cravings during pregnancy and it’s okay to give into some of them. But the majority of the time, you should eat healthy because it’s the best option for your baby.
First off, you need to forget this whole eating-for-two thing — during pregnancy, you only need an additional 300 calories per day.
To eat healthily, you should include all the food groups whenever you can during a meal and put a high emphasis on eating fruits and vegetables (source). Make sure you’re also getting adequate amounts of grains, protein, and fiber too.
6. Watch the Seafood
Fish has long enjoyed a reputation as being brain food because of its high content of omega 3 fatty acid, which helps with brain development.
But, because some varieties of fish do have a lot of mercury in them, women who are expecting should limit their intake to 12 ounces a week at the most.
A safer and healthier substitute can be to opt for plant-based sources of omega 3’s such as flax seeds, walnuts and chia seeds.
7. Make Sure to Stay Hydrated
Staying properly hydrated can potentially ward off a lot of pregnancy problems, including preterm labor, urinary tract infections, and constipation (source). Shoot for 10 cups a day, and remember, it doesn’t all have to be water — you can have milk, soup, or juice as well. But you might want to watch how many extra calories you’re taking in from fluids each day.
Taking Care of Your Body
Staying active and getting enough rest is one of the best ways you’ll have a healthier and more enjoyable pregnancy. It can help you gain less weight, dodge some complications, and feel better overall.
8. Get Moving
Exercise helps your mental health by keeping stress at bay and giving you a healthy alternative to sitting around and worrying about things.
It can help keep your blood sugar in a healthy zone and help you ward off the extra pounds that could lead you to develop complications during your pregnancy.
Also, the exercise you get will help your baby stay healthy as well. It increases the flow of oxygen to your baby, boosts their brain power, and helps develop and strengthen their lungs.
9. Do Your Kegels
Kegels are exercises meant to make your pelvic floor muscles stronger. Because these muscles support your uterus, bladder, and bowels, doing this exercise can prepare you for the delivery process and can stop you from struggling with incontinence after you have your baby.
Here is how you perform them.
- Do what you would do if you were peeing and suddenly had to stop — flex those muscles to stop that imaginary flow.
- Count to three while you’re squeezing those muscles.
- Relax and count to three.
- Do this exercise 10 times in a row, several times a day.
10. Make Sleep a Priority
We sometimes can’t control how much sleep we get — insomnia, hectic schedules, and all kinds of things can impact it. But when you’re pregnant, you should strive to get as much sleep as you feel you need.
In addition to making you feel good, sleep can help ward off pregnancy and birth complications.
Safety and Precautions
You’re going to be a mom soon — safety and precautions will soon be your best friend, even if you’ve vowed never to become “that mom.” Start practicing your new appreciation for safety now because being a mom begins on Day One, even if you can’t see your baby yet.
11. Gain the Appropriate Amount of Weight
The average woman should gain somewhere between 25 to 30 pounds during her pregnancy.
If you are underweight, your doctor may want you to gain more. If you have trouble gaining weight, you’ll need to talk to your doctor about food options that will help you pack on the pounds.
Women who are overweight may be told to gain a bit less than 25 pounds. That can be tricky when you feel super hungry at points during your pregnancy. Try to fill up on fresh fruits and vegetables for nutritious snacks that will keep your belly full for fewer calories.
12. Engineer a Plan
You can’t depend on people to know your wishes for your birthing plan. Having a birthing plan and reviewing it with your partner and care provider can help you come up with a realistic plan that everyone can live with.
A good plan should cover what your preference is for vaginal childbirth versus a C-section and any requests you have for labor, including whether you want to have an epidural. If you want a doula present, make sure your doctor knows that’s part of your labor plan.
13. Lay Off the Alcohol
You may have enjoyed some wine after work before you became pregnant, but it’s one of those things you’re going to have to say goodbye to for a while.
If you don’t, remember that every sip of alcohol you’re taking is going through the placenta into your baby’s bloodstream. That should take some of the enjoyment out of it.
Pregnancy is a time of sacrifice, but there are some amazing rewards too. And that will be crystal clear to you once you’re holding your baby in your arms in the delivery room.
14. Review Your Prescription Medications
Everyone knows illegal drugs are a huge no-no when you’re pregnant because of the birth defects and health problems they can cause for your baby. But what some women don’t realize is that prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs can carry risks too — and they can be just as severe.
If you’re thinking about trying for a baby, review your prescription drug list, as well as any other drugs you occasionally take, with your doctor. He might want you to drop some of the items on your list if they could potentially harm your baby.
15. Knock Out the Caffeine
Caffeine isn’t good for you when you’re pregnant. It crosses the placenta and ends up in your baby’s bloodstream.
While your fully developed and bigger body can handle the caffeine, your baby can’t process it as well. It takes longer because of your baby’s tiny, developing body. That means your baby feels the effects of that caffeine for a longer time than you do.
16. Quit Smoking
No buts about it, you need to try to ditch those cigarettes while you’re pregnant. Staying away from tobacco will be healthier for you, but also for your baby. It might not be easy, but it is what’s best for your baby.
17. Stay Close to Home During Your Last Trimester
Some pregnancy problems, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, typically rear their ugly heads in the last trimester. Although it’s possible to develop complications at any point in your pregnancy, the last trimester is a prime time for them.
By staying within an hour or two of your home during those final weeks and avoiding travel, you’ll be able to be close enough to your doctor that you two should be able to spot any problems ahead of time. Plus, you won’t run the risk of having to deliver your baby with an unfamiliar doctor in a strange city, like you might if you were traveling and went into early labor.
18. Reconsider the Cleaning Products You Use
Everything you breathe in, touch, or use can impact your baby and you. That includes cleaning supplies. While you’re pregnant, you might want to consider some all-natural cleaning products instead.
19. Stop Handling Kitty Litter
Used kitty litter can be dangerous for pregnant women to handle because they can get toxoplasmosis, an infection involving parasites, from their cat’s feces. Your baby could then get it from you and it could even cause birth defects (source).
So do your baby a favor and let someone else handle the kitty litter chore during your pregnancy.
20. Stay Away from Hot Tubs
Hot tubs may feel relaxing, especially at a time when your muscles are feeling the strain anyway. But your baby won’t appreciate the heat as much as you do. If you’re in a hot tub for very long, your temperature can be raised enough that it can be dangerous for your baby.
I agree with all of these tips, the ones I most resonate with are those that suggest you start before getting pregnant or as soon as you know. Most major organ-related birth defects happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Being healthy before conceiving is your best bet.
Editor's Note:Christine Traxler, MD, BS
Even though you’ll never be able to completely take away all the risk associated with pregnancy for you and your baby, you’ll be able to sleep much better at night if you do what you can. And by following these 20 tips, you’ll have a healthier pregnancy for both of you.
If someone in your life is pregnant and you think they could benefit from this article, please send it their way.
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