How to Stay Healthy During Your Pregnancy: Compression Hosiery, Diet Tips and More
When you’re pregnant, you have to think about not only your own health but also that of your baby. There are so many strong opinions about pregnancy and motherhood that it can be hard to cut through the hype and judgments to get to the facts. If you’re wondering how to stay healthy during your pregnancy, below are 17 evidence-based tips that every expectant mom should follow.
1. Make a birth plan.
Do you want an epidural in the hospital or a natural birth at home? What about a doula? Will you schedule a C-section? Your pregnancy involves your body and life as well as that of your baby, so it’s important to think through these decisions well before the time comes. Document your decisions in your birth plan and review it with your partner, doctor, family members and anyone else whom you want to be a part of the birthing process. Also, explore what you might do in case of emergency (what happens if your water breaks before your scheduled C-section?) so you aren’t scrambling in the heat of the moment.
2. Avoid alcohol.
Whenever you drink alcohol, it gets into your blood and then travels to your baby via the umbilical cord. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time during pregnancy to drink. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer.” In other words, don’t drink while you are pregnant! Alcohol can result in miscarriage, stillbirth and many different physical, behavioral and intellectual disabilities. While caffeine isn’t as deadly as alcohol, you should also limit or eliminate your consumption while pregnant to avoid harming your developing baby.
3. Avoid certain foods.
Certain foods shouldn’t be eaten during pregnancy due to their negative or unknown health effects. Avoid raw meat (including sushi), deli meat, fish with high levels of mercury, smoked fish and raw eggs. Eight to 12 ounces of seafood each week is recommended, so just make sure it’s from fish that is low in mercury. Also avoid soft cheeses and unpasteurized dairy, which may contain harmful bacteria. Basically, be cautious and smart whenever you’re eating animal products. Fruits and vegetables should also be washed thoroughly before eating in case any dirt or germs have attached to the skin.
4. Follow a healthy diet.
The food you eat provides nutrients not just for you, but also for your baby, so it’s more important than ever to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Avoid fad diets that cut out whole groups of foods, which can deprive you of necessary nutrients. Instead, focus on eating lots of lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy. While you’re at it, try to limit your consumption of excess sugars and fats as well. After all, you need to sustain this diet for a minimum of nine months.
5. Get plenty of folic acid.
Pregnant women should particularly seek out folate-rich foods like fortified cereals, asparagus, lentils, wheat germ, oranges and orange juice. Folic acid stimulates proper development and helps prevent defects in the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Aim for about 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. In fact, it’s especially important to already have folic acid in your system when you conceive, as most birth defects develop in the first few weeks, so pay attention to your folic acid intake if you’re actively trying to conceive.
6. Don’t skip breakfast.
When you have morning sickness, the last thing you want to do is eat food. But eating breakfast is really important since your body goes for so long without calories during the night. If your stomach turns at the thought of food, try dry toast or crackers first thing in the morning. You can eat the rest of your breakfast later, once your stomach has had time to settle itself. Avoid sugary breakfast foods full of empty calories and instead opt for whole grains, dairy, other forms of protein and/or fresh fruit so you start your day with many nutrients.
7. Eat smaller meals more often.
Whether it’s due to morning sickness or the extra pressure on their stomach, many women find themselves dealing with upset tummies during pregnancy. If eating a regular meal upsets your stomach or gives you bad gas, try eating five or six smaller meals spread throughout the day. These smaller portion sizes will put less stress on your stomach and allow you to spread your calories throughout the day, which can help you stay energized instead of crashing from hunger.
8. Consider a prenatal supplement.
If you’re struggling to get enough folic acid or other nutrients from your regular diet, a supplement might be able to help make up the difference. Talk to your doctor about what nutrients you may be lacking in and what type of supplement to look for. Most prenatal vitamins contain folic acid, calcium, iron and vitamin D, but they may also contain other nutrients as well. You should start taking the supplements before conception (if possible) and continue taking them throughout the entire pregnancy. Make sure to drink plenty of water and eat lots of fiber so your body can better absorb the supplement.
9. Watch your weight gain.
“You’re eating for two!” is a common refrain during pregnancy, but if you double your calories, you’ll gain way too much weight. Most women only need 300-500 extra calories per day in order to keep track with a healthy pregnancy weight gain, which works out to a quarter (or less!) of the standard 2,000 calories per day for an average adult woman. Obviously, every woman is different and has her own unique calorie needs, so talk to your doctor about how much you should be eating per day. If you’re worried about seriously over- or undereating, you can track your calories in an app by inputting your food each day.
10. Exercise regularly.
In many cases, exercise during pregnancy is safe for you and your baby, and even beneficial. Exercise can help reduce achiness, ease constipation, reduce bloating, increase your energy, improve your mood and help you sleep better. Exercise may also improve your ability to cope with labor and help you recover faster. Avoid high impact exercise, contact sports and any activity where falling or twisting is likely. Also, watch out for hot and humid weather so you don’t get overheated–and stay hydrated. Be sure to wear supportive workout shoes. You may need to size up during your pregnancy as feet can swell and/or grow bigger.
11. Build your pelvic floor muscles.
There’s one specific area of your body that you should build while you’re pregnant, and that’s your pelvic floor. Building your pelvic floor (and the surrounding core muscles) will increase your strength and stamina so you can push during labor. It will also help you recover from labor after birth and reduce your risk of developing incontinence. There are several different exercises to work your pelvic floor, including bridge lift holds, squat pulses and, of course, the classic Kegel.
12. Wear compression socks.
If you experience swelling after exercise, or any other time, maternity compression hosiery is a great solution. Maternity compression stockings promote circulation and reduce swelling thanks to the specially woven fabric, which puts graduated pressure on your legs to keep blood and other fluids moving instead of pooling in your feet and calves. Many women like maternity pantyhose, which covers their belly, but thigh high stockings, knee high socks and even crew socks are also options—and there are compression sleeves and wraps available for other parts of the body as well.
13. Elevate your legs.
If maternity compression stockings aren’t enough to completely combat your swelling, elevating your legs for 15-20 minutes at the end of the day can help you get relief. Lean back as far as you can without discomfort and raise your legs above your heart. Ordinarily, you’d lie flat on your back, but if you do this after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the extra pressure from your growing belly can actually impede circulation, so just lie back as far as you can. For proper form with the most effective results, a leg rest is essential to get in the right position.
14. Get enough sleep.
Even if you’re usually a deep sleeper, pregnancy can seriously affect your sleep quantity and quality due to issues like hormone changes, heartburn, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, nighttime urination and more. Make sure you leave yourself plenty of time at the end of the day to wind down and get ready to sleep. Avoid caffeine less than 8 hours before sleeping, and don’t drink too many fluids of any kind close to bedtime or you’ll need to get up and use the restroom. Exercising can also help you feel tired and sleep deeply. In the second half of your pregnancy, sleep on your side and put a pillow between your knees to promote proper spinal alignment and circulation.
15. Visit your dentist.
You’re probably not going to have the time or the energy to go to the dentist right after you have a baby. Schedule your six-month cleaning date a few weeks before your due date, so you won’t have to think about it for several months. If you have dental work that needs to be done, consider taking care of that at least several months in advance so you’re not trying to heal from (say) a wisdom tooth extraction when your discomfort is high. If you need to anything beyond a regular cleaning, make sure to tell your doctor that you’re pregnant so they can prescribe a course of treatment and medications that won’t pose any risks.
16. Evaluate your chores.
As your pregnancy progresses, you may have to redistribute some of the household duties. Avoid harmful chemicals such as bleach, solvents, paint thinners and anything else with strong fumes. If your doctor has told you to avoid heavy lifting, you may need to stop activities such as carrying a heavy laundry basket and moving around furniture while vacuuming. If you own a cat, wear gloves while changing the litter box as it can expose you to toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection transmitted via cat feces that can be very dangerous.
17. Stay hydrated.
During pregnancy, water helps with the development of the placenta and later the amniotic sac. It also helps cushion and lubricate the joints, which can reduce achiness and stiffness. Not drinking enough water can also make you even more susceptible to overheating than usual while pregnant. Ideally, you want your urine to be clear or light yellow. While everyone’s hydration needs vary by individual, aim for 8-12 glasses of water a day, and always drink when you’re thirsty.
Pregnancy is an exciting but also a stressful time for many women since they are concerned about their own health as well as their baby’s. Follow these 17 tips for a healthy and comfortable pregnancy, as well as a better recovery. And remember to run any lifestyle changes past your doctor before you implement them–just to be on the safe side.