Pregnancy Health and Wellness

Find out what food is best for your baby and how to stay active and fit.

Diet

The Right Pregnancy Diet

Nutrition is never more important than in pregnancy, when you're literally laying the foundation for your baby's future. Your pregnancy diet will have implications that will last the baby's whole life long.

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Certain nutrients take a new priority now. Most women need to increase the amount of protein in their pregnancy diet. You'll also need higher amounts of calcium, folic acid, and iron. Since it can be difficult to get enough of these nutrients through diet alone, you will probably need to take a prenatal supplement. Protein intake can easily be increased by adding skim milk powder or an extra egg white to whatever you're already eating.

The good news for moms who want to ensure their own health along with that of their baby is that it doesn't take a lot of extra calories to provide all the needed nutrients. Adding 300 high-quality calories per day will ensure safe, steady weight gain at the proper rate. And remember that, though it's called a pregnancy diet, it's a "this is what you should eat" diet. You should never try to lose weight while pregnant. Even if you were overweight when you became pregnant, you'll still need to gain - though possibly not as much as someone who began at a healthy weight.

The March of Dimes has modified the traditional food pyramid to incorporate the needs of pregnant women. Their recommendations for the optimum pregnancy diet include:

  • Whole grain products (breads and cereals), 6 - 11 servings/day. For the most fiber, vitamins and nutrients, choose whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice) whenever possible.
  • Vegetables, 3 - 5 servings/day. Fresh vegetables are an excellent source of fiber, folate, and other vitamins. Go for variety in both color (green, orange, yellow) and texture (firm, leafy).
  • Fruits, 2 - 4 servings/day. Again, fresh is best, and a variety of colors will help ensure a variety of nutrients.
  • Milk and milk products, 3 - 4 servings/day. Low-fat choices (skim milk, fat-free yogurt) give you just as many nutrients as the full-fat varieties and are packed with protein and calcium.
  • Meat and protein foods, 3 - 4 servings/day. Lean meats are best. Fish is great, but limit your quantities, as some types may be harmful to your baby.
  • Fats and sweets, a minimal amount. You don't have to cut your sweet tooth off cold turkey, but choose healthy alternatives whenever possible.

Nutrition

What To Know About Pregnancy Nutrition

Nutrition is important in anyone's life, but is especially important for a pregnant woman. When you are pregnant, whatever you consume is your unborn baby's only source of nourishment. Here is a short guide to pregnancy nutrition.

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Prenatal Vitamins

Once you have an exam by a health care provider, s/he will most likely prescribe a prenatal vitamin for you. These vitamins can be vital to pregnancy nutrition. Your prenatal vitamins will provide a healthy balance of the vitamins and minerals you and your growing baby need to be healthy. Prenatal vitamins are not a substitute for healthy food, nor should you use them as such. These vitamins provide SOME of the necessary quantities of vitamins and minerals, but you are responsible for consuming the right foods to help cover the daily percentage not given by the prenatal vitamins.

Gaining Weight

When you are pregnant you must be prepared to gain weight - now is not the time to begin a new diet. On the contrary, this does not mean that you are free to eat anything you want all of the time. You still need to make sure to eat nutritious food that will benefit you and your baby. At first, you only need about 300 extra calories per day. During your first trimester you may not feel much like eating. If this is the case, when you DO eat, make sure that you are eating foods rich in vitamins and protein. Folic acid (Vitamin B9) is especially important to a pregnant woman. Your intake of folic acid could help prevent many birth defects such as spina bifida and other neural tube defects. If you are experiencing nausea or vomiting and are unable to keep anything down, talk to your health care provider who may be able to suggest a dietary supplement.

Foods and the Nutrients They Provide

The following is a list of nutrients a pregnant woman needs, what they provide for your unborn baby, and a taste of the foods that provide them.

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Protein

  • Purpose: Helps cell growth and blood production in baby
  • Foods: Fish, egg whites, lean meats, poultry, tofu (Note: Pregnant women should limit their intake of fish due to mercury levels.)

Carbohydrates

  • Purpose: Gives mother-to-be energy
  • Foods: Breads, cereals, rice, potatoes

Calcium

  • Purpose: Helps baby's bones and teeth develop; helps keep mother-to-be's bones and teeth to be strong
  • Foods: Milk, cheese, yogurt, spinach

Iron

  • Purpose: Helps red blood cell production in baby and mother (Note: Iron will also help to prevent pregnancy anemia)
  • Foods: Spinach, iron-fortified foods

Vitamin A

  • Purpose: Helps baby grow healthy skin and bones; helps keep mother's skin, bones and eyesight stay healthy
  • Foods: Carrots, sweet potatoes

Vitamin C

  • Purpose: Helps baby develop healthy gums, teeth and bones; helps baby and mother to absorb iron
  • Foods: Citrus fruits, broccoli

Vitamin B6

  • Purpose: Helps red blood cell formation in baby and mother; helps body use protein, fat, and carbs effectively
  • Foods: Pork products, bananas

Vitamin B12

  • Purpose: Helps formation of red blood cells in baby and mother; helps nervous system to develop in baby and maintains nervous system health in mother
  • Foods: Meat, fish, poultry, milk

Vitamin D

  • Purpose: Helps absorb calcium into the body
  • Foods: Fortified dairy products and breads

Folic Acid

  • Purpose: Helps blood production in baby and mother
  • Foods: Green leafy vegetables, dark yellow fruits and vegetables, nuts

Fat

  • Purpose: Stores energy
  • Foods: Meat, dairy products made with whole milk (or whole milk by itself), peanut butter (Note: Limit intake of fats to less than 30% of total daily caloric intake)

So there is your simple pregnancy nutrition guide. Remember: if you have a craving, satisfy it - you can have treats, just eat them in moderation. Bon appetit!

Exercise

The Truth About Pregnancy Exercises

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Can you believe that doctors once thought that a pregnant woman should spend her entire pregnancy just resting? Well, that definitely does not apply in today's society. There are a number of exercises that are safe for you during your pregnancy. In fact, most health care providers encourage pregnant women to exercise in order to help maintain their weight and even help them perform better during labor and delivery.

There are some thoughts you should take into consideration before you begin a regimen of pregnancy exercises. If you have not been exercising on a regular basis before your pregnancy, now is not the time to start a difficult routine. You should be especially careful if you have any previous health conditions. Make sure you discuss your ideas with your health care provider because s/he may have some pregnancy exercises that are just right for you.

Here are a few simple suggestions for pregnancy exercises and how they can help you stay healthy during your pregnancy.

Walking

Walking briskly is a good way to start your exercise regimen. You can begin walking at any time during your pregnancy. You can walk anywhere and it is a low-stress exercise. Walking helps keeps your knee mobility when the effects of your pregnancy make your joints stiff and may keep your legs feeling good in general.

Swimming

Swimming can be a relaxing exercise for a pregnant woman. This is another exercise you can begin at any point in your pregnancy. The support of the water helps comfort your body while you work out your arms and legs. This is also a great opportunity to practice breathing for labor. Plus, just think - once you have finished a few laps, you can float around the pool to cool down.

Cycling

Stationary cycling is recommended due to the fact that your balance changes as your pregnancy progresses. If you are comfortable enough on a regular bicycle during your first trimester, that is okay too. Cycling helps strengthen your legs and prevents stiffness and numbness.

Yoga

Yoga during your pregnancy can help you breathe and relax. It may help prepare your body for the physical demands of labor by strengthening your pelvic muscles. Yoga can also help relieve any back pain you may have.

Food for Thought

As with any exercise, if you feel that you are getting worn out, dizzy, nauseous, or have pains, stop immediately. You should avoid any contact sports while you are pregnant in order to prevent possible injuries to your abdomen. Do not exercise in excessive heat, as extreme temperatures could cause your body to overheat. Make sure to stay hydrated! Contact your health care provider if you have any other questions about exercising during your pregnancy.

Now that you know that it is safe to exercise during pregnancy, choose one or two pregnancy exercises that are just right for you and have fun!

Sexuality

Having Sex During Pregnancy

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Sex can be a wonderful thing during pregnancy.

Because of the increased amount of hormones and changes in sexual organs in the body, sex can actually be more enjoyable during pregnancy. Certain areas of the body become more sensitive, such as the genitals, breasts, and nipples and contribute to arousal. However, the second trimester will probably be best for sexual intimacy because this is the time when the body is feeling best, not as nauseous or tired as in the first and third trimesters.

There is no evidence to suggest that having sex will harm the baby. The baby is in a sealed off area that is protected by the amniotic sac. However, some positions may not be as comfortable as they were before; try different positions and be sure that you’re comfortable.

Unless your doctor advises otherwise or in special circumstances, sex is great during pregnancy. It's good for your body and safe for your baby.

Special Circumstances

There are times when having sex during pregnancy can be harmful:

  • If you have placenta previa.
  • If bleeding occurs, do not have sex and talk to your doctor. It may not be serious, but has the potential to be.
  • If you’ve previously had a miscarriage talk to your doctor first.
  • If your water breaks, you could be at risk for infection.


Return to Pregnancy

Resources

Stoppard, Miriam. "Dr. Miriam Stoppard’s New Pregnancy and Birth Book.” Ballantine Books. 2009.