How to be Healthy During Pregnancy

What's Covered

Pregnancy is an amazing journey. The realization of carrying another life inside of you is heavenly. This experience fills you with immeasurable joy.

The pregnancy journey isn’t a passive one and that’s why you landed on this article. There are roles for you to play.

 It is crucial that you take good care of yourself and your unborn baby. This is achieved through adapting to a healthy lifestyle. It is also achieved through observing your doctor’s appointments throughout the pregnancy. A healthy pregnancy increases your chances for a healthy birth.[1]

Below are more guidelines to observe for a healthy pregnancy.

Mental health

Expectant mothers experience a mix of emotions and feelings that conflict with each other. At some point, you experience excitement and joy while at another you are dominated by uncertainty and nervousness. You will be required to accept some physical changes that will set in. Some not so easy adjustments will require to be made as well.

Your mental health is as important as your physical health. It is common among pregnant women that they only focus on their physical health. They ignore their mental preparedness for parenting. Whether it is your first pregnancy or not, mental preparation is equally important.

Expectant mums experience vulnerability as they adapt to the development of the baby. However, other more critical factors threaten the mental health of a mum-to-be.

Risk factors leading to prenatal depression and anxiety

Prenatal depression and anxiety is a common ailment during pregnancy. It affects one in every ten expectant women. It also affects one in twenty men whose partners are expectant. This illness affects both women and men worldwide, regardless of history or age. For every expectant mum, it is necessary to adjust to the many changes that arise. Therefore, there is an acceptable amount of anxiety and concerns. However, some factors will make you more vulnerable to prenatal depression and anxiety.

These include unwanted pregnancy, preexisting physical illness, past trauma or abuse, stressful events, past conception & pregnancy complications, lack of support( from either your partner, family, or your social circles), absence of your mother, marital conflicts, living alone, low income, already having many children and being a very young mother.

Many expectant persons will navigate through the above risk factors successfully. They enter parenthood with minimal complications. This is not always the case for a majority of others, and these land into prenatal depression and anxiety.

Symptoms of prenatal depression & anxiety

These include loss of pleasure from activities that once made you happy, excessive anxiety about your child, low self-esteem(feeling inadequate about parenthood), changes in appetite, suicidal thoughts, drinking alcohol (smoking or misusing drugs), responding poorly to reassurance, guilt, poor concentration, fatigue, feelings of dis-contentedness, sleeping too much or insufficiently and irritability.

It is also worth noting that a person can develop the symptoms regardless of the fact that they are not exposed to any risk factor. Prenatal depression and anxiety are not solely dependent on the above risk factors.  One can develop prenatal depression and anxiety without having experienced such factors as those above.

You will require immediate help whenever you feel like you are experiencing prenatal depression and anxiety symptoms. Feeling confused about your feelings will as well require some attention. You will need to keep in mind that what you are experiencing isn’t new. It is treatable, you can recover.

Complications of untreated prenatal depression and anxiety

There exists proof of the consequences of untreated depression and anxiety during pregnancy. These consequences have often been overlooked. In reality, these affect both the mother and the child negatively as indicated below.

To the baby: Premature birth, low birth weight, poor adaptation to life outside the womb, and low APGAR Score ( this rates the health of a newborn baby after delivery).

To the mother: Pregnancy termination, suicide, pre-eclampsia, preterm labor, poor bonding with the baby, postpartum depression, and carelessness with her physical health.

Treatment

Depression and anxiety during pregnancy require medical intervention. The type of treatment you require will depend on the severity of your case.

Non-medicinal approaches

Below are treatments often recommended to expectant women with mild or moderate depression:

Psychotherapy, for example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT).

This is where you are taught how to manage your emotions and thoughts by a skilled therapist.

Acupuncture

 This is a Chinese practice whereby small needles are placed in areas suspected of influencing moods.

Omega-3 essential fatty acids

 Such foods as walnuts and oily fish can boost your moods naturally.

Light therapy

A patient is exposed to some artificial sunlight during particular day times to aid in relieving depression symptoms.

Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications

These medications are the primary treatment possibilities for the majority of types of depression and anxiety. Despite there being benefits of taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, there are risks involved too.

The decision to use these medications while expectant is dependent on the balance between the benefits and risks involved. The biggest worry while using these medicines is the risk of your child obtaining defects. However, low birth defect rates have been noted on women who use these medications during pregnancy. But still, some depressants have been known to carry higher risks of complicating a pregnancy. Your health care provider can help you weigh your options towards a well-informed decision.

Types of antidepressants during pregnancy

Some Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors(SSRIs)

SSRIs are often administered during pregnancy. Their potential risks include premature birth and maternal weight changes. However, Paxil(Paroxetine) is normally discouraged during pregnancy due to higher risks of a fetal heart defect.

Bupropion(Wellbutrin)

Bupropion is usually a last resort measure to women non-respondent to other medications. It has been associated with miscarriages and fatal heart defects.

Trycyclic antidepressants

These have not been first or second options while treating depression in pregnancy due to their higher risk factors. However, they have been considered where other medications failed to work.

Serotonin & Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs include duloxetine (Cymbalta) as well as Venlafaxine (Effector XR). These have been considered as options during pregnancy.

Nutritional Health

It is worth noting that your body undergoes several hormonal and physical changes during pregnancy. Therefore, there is a need to fuel your body and nourish your developing baby. This calls for choices to be made on the particular foods to be incorporated into your diet.

A balanced and healthy diet will ensure that you and your unborn child are well catered for. Your baby’s nourishment largely relies on what you eat. Hence, it is very critical that you include the required nutrients in your diet.

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What to eat

Your goal here will be to eat a variety of foods that will meet all your needs and those of your baby. It doesn’t have to be a completely different diet from the one you are used to. It is just a bit of amplification.[2]

 You can maintain your current diet into your entire first trimester. Then you can add 350 and 450 daily calories in your second and third trimesters respectively.

You don’t have to do away with all your favorite meals during pregnancy. You can consider incorporating nutritious foods into your preferred diet. This ensures that you don’t lack crucial vitamins or minerals.

Protein

Proteins are essential in facilitating the proper development of your baby’s body tissues and organs. They also aid in the growth of breast and uterine tissues in a mother. Your protein requirement increases with every pregnancy trimester.

Your daily intake of protein should be 70-100g. This however is dependent on your weight and trimester. Your doctor will advise you on the right amount that you require.

Rich sources of proteins include: Chicken, salmon, lean beef, pork, nuts, peanut butter and beans, cottage cheese

Calcium

Calcium helps in the development of your baby’s bones.  A pregnant mum will require 1000mg daily intake of calcium.

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Rich sources of calcium include milk, cheese, yogurt, Calcium-set tofu, dark green leafy vegetables, low mercury seafood, and fish (like salmon, catfish, shrimp, and canned light tuna).

Folate

Folate is commonly known as Folic Acid. It reduces the risks of defects in the neural tubes. These are

critical birth defects that usually affect a child’s spinal cord and brain.

A folate intake of between 600-800mcg is recommended for every pregnant mother.

Folate-rich foods include eggs, liver, nuts, peanut butter, dark green leafy vegetables, dried lentils, and beans.

Iron

Iron combined with potassium, sodium, and water enhances blood flow. This ensures that your body and that of your child gets enough oxygen supply.

A daily intake of 27mg of iron is recommended. Vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron into the body.

Good sources of iron include lean beef, poultry, eggs, dark leafy vegetables, enriched cereals, and bread.

Nutrition Don’ts

Don’t “eat for two”. Excessive eating will lead to risks of obesity for both the mother and the baby. Eat only that portion that makes you satisfied and not more.

Don’t take excessive carbs. White rice, white bread, sweets, and sodas spike the levels of glucose in the blood. These spikes are known to lead to overweight newborns and obesity in the kids later on.

Minimize your intake of these white foods and opt for unrefined grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, whole wheat bread, and tortillas.

Don’t ignore food safety. Don’t consume undercooked or raw meat, seafood, or eggs as they harbor bacteria that can harm you or your baby. Avoid leftover foods that have been left out for long. Unpasteurized milk products are no go zones for a pregnant mum.

Don’t starve yourself. You should eat after every two to three hours. This not only keeps the baby well-nourished but also ensures that your blood sugars are in check. Smaller meals are also known to reduce the heartburn that comes with pregnancy.

Don’t fail to drink water. Daily intake of 8 glasses of water is recommended. Dehydration may lead to the production of a hormone that activates contractions. This in turn may lead to preterm labor.

Staying hydrated also keeps you away from headaches, dizziness, kidney stones, hemorrhoids, and constipation.

Light yellow or clear urine is an indication that you are well hydrated.

Don’t take alcohol, herbal tea, or excess caffeine. These bring high risks of miscarriage, stillbirth, and deformities in children.

Food Cravings & Aversions

It is common during pregnancy to crave particular foods or completely dislike others. Therefore maintaining a healthy diet with these cravings and aversions might be challenging. Food aversion is different from low appetite during pregnancy. The latter is usually characterized by nausea and vomiting.

Low appetite usually has its peak at the 6th and 14th week of pregnancy. On the other hand, food aversion is an on and off thing that tends to disappear with the progress of the pregnancy. Therefore you can always go back to the food you once disliked to ensure a healthy diet.

For stubborn nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, it is important that you see a doctor.

Common food aversions include: Fatty food,  coffee/tea, meat, eggs, and spicy food

Sweet and bland meals are commonly preferred by pregnant women instead of highly flavored and spicy foods.

Causes of food aversions

Hormonal changes are responsible for food preferences, especially during the first trimester. The HCG hormone for example is known for causing appetite changes, nausea, and food aversions during pregnancy.

How to cope with food aversions

Eating the foods that you have a strong desire for rather than those you dislike is fine provided it is conducted in moderation. You can also consider substituting the foods you dislike with others. For example, if you hate meat, you can substitute it with nuts.

You can also disguise the green leafy vegetables by blending them together with fruits to make a smoothie. This way you ensure that you are not missing healthy nutrients during pregnancy.

Exercise During Pregnancy

Physical exercises during pregnancy have several benefits both to the mother and child. However, it is important that you consult your obstetrician before starting any physical exercise. Some mothers may be prohibited from these exercises due to their health conditions.[3]

Exercises during pregnancy reduce constipation, backaches, swelling, and bloating. They enhance your sleep, boost your energy levels and moods. They promote muscle strength, tone, and endurance, they also protect you against excessive weight gain, shortens your labor, and reduces your risks of contracting gestational diabetes.

Factors to consider while exercising during pregnancy

It is crucial to monitor your heart rate while excising. A heart rate of not more than 140 beats per minute is recommended during pregnancy. It is not proper to exercise to the point of getting extreme faintness, fatigue, dizziness, or pain.

Abdominal exercises strengthen the pelvis.  This contributes positively to the labor process and delivery. However, exercising while lying on your back is not recommended past the first trimester.

Running and jogging during pregnancy is fine provided it is approved by your physician. You can run or jog all the way to your labor provided that your health is in check.

A pregnant woman should avoid deep joint or muscle movements such as squatting. This is due to the fact that the woman’s center of gravity is normally affected by the relaxin hormone. Hence, the dangers of injuries resulting from loss of balance.

Recommended forms of exercises during pregnancy

There are several types of exercises that can be considered during pregnancy. These include Swimming, walking, dancing, Kegels, pelvic tilts, squats while using support, low-impact aerobics, weight training, prenatal pirates, and prenatal yoga.

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Risky exercises during pregnancy

The following exercises are prohibited for the safety of both mother and the unborn child: Diving, tennis, squash, scuba diving, skating, and horseback riding.

Who shouldn’t exercise

Some women are cautioned against exercises based on the following conditions: Heart disease, lung disease, smoker, unmanaged diabetes, overweight/obesity, cervical incompetence, continuous bleeding during second and third trimesters, multiple pregnancies(twins, triplets, etc), placenta abruption/previa, preterm labor, amniotic membranes rupture, preeclampsia, hypertension, asthma, and anemia.

Pregnancy complications that shouldn’t be ignored

Like any other good thing that is tested through the fire, pregnancy is prone to some challenges too. While some pregnancies have it all smooth, others encounter one or more threats.

According to the US pregnancy complications rate in 2018 by age, the pregnancy complications rate in the US was 149.9 per 1000 women aged between 18-24 years old. For the women aged between 34-44 years, 230.7 per 1000 people had pregnancy complications in 2018.

You could be wondering which symptoms during pregnancy would require immediate medical intervention and which ones can wait till the next prenatal clinic.[4] Talk to  your doctor once you note any of these symptoms:

Lessened baby kicks

The first baby kicks are felt from the 16th week of pregnancy. A reduction in the frequency of these kicks should raise an alarm in your mind. Your doctor might advise you on how to count and monitor the kicks. They will also let you know when to rush to the hospital.

Vaginal bleeding or spotting

Bleeding has different meanings during pregnancy.

Heavy bleeding accompanied by severe abdominal pain,menstruation-like cramps, and feeling like fainting signify ectopic pregnancy during the first trimester. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg gets implanted somewhere else apart from the uterus. This can be life-threatening.

Heavy bleeding and menstrual-like cramps during the first or early second trimester could be indicating a probable miscarriage.

 On the other hand, bleeding accompanied by abdominal pain during the third trimester could be a sign of placenta abruption. This is where the placenta gets detached from the uterine lining.

It is recommended that every form of bleeding during pregnancy be assessed by a physician.

Severe nausea and vomiting

While nausea is common in pregnancy, severe nausea requires medical attention. Malnutrition and dehydration can be harmful to your unborn baby. You may have some medicines prescribed to you by your doctor.

Early third trimester contractions

Contractions at this time could be indicating preterm labor. On the contrary, most first time mums don’t differentiate true labor from false labor. False labor contractions are referred to as Braxton-Hicks contractions. They are not rhythmic, are unpredictable and their intensity doesn’t increase. They do disappear after an hour or after hydration.

On the other hand, regular contractions occur after every ten minutes or less and their intensity keeps increasing.

Seek medical attention if you experience these contractions during your third trimester. It is not yet time for your baby to be born. Your doctor might be able to stop the contractions.

Water breaking

You could be up and about running your daily errands and water breaks all the way down to your legs. It easy to confuse the fluid with urine because the bladder is usually compressed by the enlarged uterus. If you are not sure which of the two has occurred, empty the bladder first in the bathroom. If the flow continues, then indeed the waters have broken. Go to the hospital or call your doctor.

Preeclampsia

This is characterized by abdominal pain, severe headaches, visual disturbances, and swellings during the third trimester.

High blood pressure and excessive protein in the urine are also indications of this disorder.

Preeclampsia is usually known to take effect from the 20th week during pregnancy.

Final thoughts

The nine months of pregnancy are filled with many lifestyles, physical and psychological changes. Each change comes with a challenge and therefore a healthy support system is crucial for a pregnant mum. Proper health care is emphasized during pregnancy. Good health care increases the likely hood of a healthy pregnancy. It also ensures that the baby is healthy which also leads to satisfied parents.

Pregnancy is not all about growing all the body parts of a baby. It is also a preparation for the entire life of a child after they are born. Some habits are developed from the womb.


[1] Almalik, Mona, and Sultan. “Pregnant women: What do they need to know during pregnancy? A descriptive study.” Women and Birth 30.2 (2017): 100-106.

[2] Cox, Jean, and Sharon. “Nutrition during pregnancy.” Obstetrics and gynecology clinics of North America 35.3 (2008): 369-383.

[3] Nascimento, Simony, Fernanda, and José. “Physical exercise during pregnancy: a systematic review.” Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology 24.6 (2012): 387-394.

[4] Condous, George. “The management of early pregnancy complications.” Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology 18.1 (2004): 37-57.

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Diana Lucas

Diana Lucas

Hi, Diana here. Welcome to my blog and hope you like my sharing. I am a mother of 2 boys, 3 years old and a 1 year old. I dedicate my career in child development research and I focus on parenting tips, positive parenting, educational toys for my babies. Your time here means a lot to me! Diana A. Lucas
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