Now that you’re pregnant, taking care of yourself has never been more important. Key to protecting the health of your child is to get regular prenatal care. If you think you’re pregnant, call your health care provider to schedule your first prenatal appointment. Many health care providers, though, won’t schedule the first visit before 8 weeks of pregnancy, unless there is a problem.
At this first visit, your health care provider will probably do a pregnancy test, and will figure out how many weeks pregnant you are based on a physical examination and the date of your last period. He or she will also use this information to predict your delivery date (an ultrasound done sometime later in your pregnancy will help to verify that date). If you’re healthy and there are no complicating risk factors, most health care providers will want to see you:
- every 4 weeks until the 28th week of pregnancy
- then every 2 weeks until 36 weeks
- then once a week until delivery
Throughout your pregnancy, your health care provider will check your weight and blood pressure while also checking the growth and development of your baby (by doing things like feeling your abdomen, listening for the fetal heartbeat starting during the second trimester, and measuring your belly). During the span of your pregnancy, you’ll also have prenatal tests, including blood, urine, and cervical tests, and probably at least one ultrasound. Here’s how to keep you and your baby as healthy as possible.
Nutrition and Supplements
Now that you’re eating for two (or more!), this is not the time to cut calories or go on a diet. In fact, it’s just the opposite — you need about 300 extra calories a day, especially later in your pregnancy when your baby grows quickly. If you’re very thin, very active, or carrying multiples, you’ll need even more. But if you’re overweight, your health care provider may advise you to consume fewer extra calories. Healthy eating is always important, but especially when you’re pregnant. So, make sure your calories come from nutritious foods that will contribute to your baby’s growth and development. Try to maintain a well-balanced diet that incorporates the dietary guidelines including: lean meats, fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products.
By eating a healthy, balanced diet you’re more likely to get the nutrients you need. But you will need more of the essential nutrients (especially calcium, iron, and folic acid) than you did before you became pregnant. Your health care provider will prescribe prenatal vitamins to be sure both you and your growing baby are getting enough.
- Calcium: Most women 19 and older — including those who are pregnant — don’t often get the daily 1,000 mg of calcium that’s recommended. Because your growing baby’s calcium demands are high, you should increase your calcium consumption to prevent a loss of calcium from your own bones. Your doctor will also likely prescribe prenatal vitamins for you, which may contain some extra calcium. Good sources of calcium include: low-fat dairy products including milk, pasteurized cheese, and yogurt, calcium-fortified products, including orange juice, soy milk, and cereals, dark green vegetables including spinach, kale, and broccoli, tofu, dried beans, almonds
- Iron: Pregnant women need about 30 mg of iron every day. Why? Because iron is needed to make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells. Red blood cells circulate throughout the body to deliver oxygen to all its cells. Without enough iron, the body can’t make enough red blood cells and the body’s tissues and organs won’t get the oxygen they need to function well. So, it’s especially important for pregnant women to get enough iron in their daily diets — for themselves and their growing babies. Although the nutrient can be found in various kinds of foods, iron from meat sources is more easily absorbed by the body than iron found in plant foods. Iron-rich foods include: red meat, dark poultry, salmon, eggs, tofu, enriched grains, dried beans and peas, dried fruits, dark leafy green vegetables.
- Fluids: It’s important to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, during pregnancy. A woman’s blood volume increases dramatically during pregnancy, and drinking enough water each day can help prevent common problems such as dehydration and constipation.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes (that’s 2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week if you’re not already highly active or doing vigorous-intensity activity. If you are very active or did intense aerobic activities before becoming pregnant, you may be able to keep up your workouts, as long as your doctor says it’s safe. Before beginning — or continuing — any exercise routine, talk to your doctor.
Exercising during pregnancy has been shown to be very beneficial. Regular exercise can help: prevent excess weight gain, reduce pregnancy-related problems, like back pain, swelling, and constipation, improve sleep, increase energy, boost your mood, prepare your body for labor, lessen recovery time after the birth.
Low-impact, moderate-intensity exercise activities (such as walking and swimming) are great choices. You also can try yoga or Pilates classes, videos, or exercise apps that are tailored for pregnancy. These are low-impact and they work on strength, flexibility, and relaxation.
Some Things to Avoid
When you’re pregnant, what you don’t put into your body (or expose your body to) is almost as important as what you do. Some things to avoid: alchohol, recreational drugs, cicotine, caffeine.
It often feels like life is moving faster and faster all the time, but in the delivery room, things are actually slowing down. A National Institutes of Health study found that childbirth for first-time moms now takes 2.6 hours longer than it did 50 years ago. To make that extra time in the delivery room less painful and more joyful, it helps to know how to make the hard work of having a baby more manageable. Starting today, here are 12 things you can do to make your birth experience that much easier:
1) Join a Childbirth course.
2) Find strength and focus.
3) Be prepared.
4) Seek support.
5) Doing upright positions to help move the baby down and out.