Pregnancy puts an understandable strain on the body, which basically becomes a complete life support system for the baby. Making sure that life support system is strong and vital increases the baby’s chances to survive and thrive. But it’s not just the baby to be concerned about—pregnancy affects every part of the body, from your heart, digestive system, skeletal system, digestive system, skin—even your brain.
That’s why taking care of yourself during pregnancy is so important—your body has important work to do, and in order to complete that work—and recover from it—it is important to follow these tips to stay healthy.
- Schedule and attend all of your prenatal doctor visits. Although they are often routine, prenatal visits confirm the baby is growing and developing on schedule, and that you remain healthy. Your doctor can diagnose pregnancy complications such as anemia, high blood pressure or gestational diabetes, even before you may feel symptoms. Free prenatal care is available through state organizations, such as NC Association of Free Clinics.
- Take your vitamins. Get your body off to a healthy start even if you have not seen your doctor yet. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends pregnant women take 400 mgs of folic acid every day—an important B vitamin that can reduce the risk of birth defects like spina bifida. The AAP also says to consider taking a daily prenatal vitamin that contains iron, calcium and the fatty acids DHA and ARA.
- Eat a healthy diet. There’s a reason pregnant women are told they are eating for two—they are. You need 300 calories per day more than your usual to help the baby develop. A healthy diet is one that contains protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fats. Your doctor can suggest the best combination for you, but the Mayo Clinic provides some helpful guidelines.
- Get enough rest. Easy to say, hard to do—but important. Whether you are working, going to school, or have other children or commitments, it is still important that you get rest during the day and sleep at night. This peaceful time gives your body a chance to recover from some of the stresses of pregnancy—physical and emotional, and is vital to your wellbeing.
- Exercise. Doctors encourage exercise during pregnancy unless a particular health concern suggests otherwise. Your doctor may clear you to continue your regular exercise routine, or suggest activities that have low impact on your body, such as walking, swimming or yoga. Exercise can relieve backaches and improve posture, provide strong muscles that are useful during delivery, and can help women gain less weight during pregnancy.
- Take care of your emotional wellbeing. Pregnancy is an emotional time—whether because of surging hormones or because of the life changes ahead. Make sure you have a support system of friends, family, counselors, or mentors who can provide encouragement and comfort when you need it.
- Avoid substances and activities that can harm you or the baby. Smoking or being around smoke, taking drugs or drinking alcohol can be harmful to you and the baby. Although some studies say that moderate drinking during pregnancy may be okay, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts it quite plainly: there’s no known amount of alcohol that’s safe to drink during pregnancy.
- Avoid foods unsafe to eat during pregnancy. Unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses, undercooked meats can contain bacteria that can make you sick and possibly harm the baby.
- Ask for, and be willing to receive help. Whether it’s asking a neighbor to watch your toddler so you can take a much needed nap, asking a family member for a ride to the doctor or let a friend do a load of laundry.
Taking care during pregnancy means making sure you and the baby have the physical and emotional nurturing you need—giving you both the best chances for a healthy life.