An obstetrician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Audra Meadows, MD, MPH spends much of her time advising women on how to optimize their health before, during, and after pregnancy to prevent low birth weight and other problems. Here are 12 tips from Dr. Meadows to help you ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
1. Eat right
Eating a healthy diet is especially important for pregnant women. Your baby needs healthy food, not sugar and fat. Eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, calcium-rich foods, and foods low in saturated fat.
2. Get your vitamins
Make sure to get plenty of folic acid and calcium. You can get these and other necessary vitamins and minerals from food and a standard multivitamin. Spinach, oranges, broccoli, and kidney beans are rich in folic acid. Milk, yogurt, and spinach are packed with calcium. A daily prenatal multivitamin, however, can help ensure you get the right amount. Ask your doctor about taking a daily prenatal vitamin.
3. Stay hydrated
A pregnant woman’s body needs more water than normal. Aim for eight or more cups each day.
4. Proper prenatal care
Women should get regular prenatal care from a healthcare professional. Mothers who don’t get regular prenatal care are much more likely to have a child with low birth weight. If available, consider group prenatal care.
5. Avoid certain foods
There are certain foods that women should avoid eating while pregnant. Do not eat: raw or rare meats, liver, sushi, raw eggs (also in mayonnaise), soft cheeses (feta, brie), and unpasteurized milk. Raw and unpasteurized animal products can cause food poisoning. Some fish, even when cooked, can be high in mercury.
6. Don’t drink alcohol
Women should not drink alcohol before and during their pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of having a baby with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). FASD can cause abnormal facial features, severe learning disabilities, and behavioral issues.
Alcohol can impact a baby’s health in the earliest stages of pregnancy, before a woman may be aware she is pregnant. Therefore, women who may become pregnant also should not drink alcohol.
7. Don’t smoke
Smoking is unhealthy for you and your unborn child. It increases the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), premature births, miscarriages, and several other unhealthy outcomes.
8. Get moving
Daily exercise is great for most pregnant women. Check with your doctor to find out how much physical activity would be right for you.
9. Get a flu shot
The flu can make a pregnant woman very sick, so ask your doctor about getting a flu shot.
10. Get plenty of sleep
Ample sleep (7 to 9 hours) is important for you and your baby. Try to sleep on your left side to improve blood flow to you and your child.
11. Reduce stress
Reducing stress is crucial for improving birth outcomes. Pregnant women should avoid, as much as they can, stressful situations. Recruit your loved ones to help you with this.
12. Choose the right time to become pregnant
“If you are choosing to become pregnant at a time when you know that you’re at your healthiest, that increases your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy birth,” says Dr. Meadows.
This not only means that women should make sure that they are healthy before they become pregnant, but they also should consider their age before getting pregnant. Mothers who have children early in life (earlier than 16-years-old), or late in life (older than 40) are at greater risk for having a preterm birth. Also, women who become pregnant again too soon (less than 18 months in between births) are even more likely to have a preterm child.