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Once you’re pregnant, you are going to have to make some changes to your lifestyle immediately. Do you ever worry that you won’t be a good parent to your child? Well, the opportunity to prove to yourself that you will be an excellent parent starts now, in pregnancy. By making the right decisions for your developing child every day—in what you eat, what you cut out of your life, and how you spend your time—you are making the first steps in being the great parent you want to be.

High Blood Pressure

In a way—yes—you are eating for two. But what you might not realize is your tiny baby only needs about 300 extra calories per day. So, while it’s a great idea to double up on all of the important nutrients you need, you don’t have to double the caloric intake. The great news about nutrition during pregnancy is you have the ability to play a little part in your child’s destiny. By eating right and feeding yourself and your fetus all of the necessary nutrients, you can take control of your child’s future health and set a strong foundation that will give you reason to be confident in a healthy infant, healthy toddler and healthy child.

A balanced and healthy diet during pregnancy can have long-lasting effects on your baby—even encouraging healthy habits into adulthood. More immediately, you’ll promote fetal brain development, reduce the risk of certain defects, and increase your baby’s birth weight with the right nutrition.

Getting the right amount of calories is a major aspect of eating well for your developing child. Early on in your pregnancy, you might not need as many as 300 calories extra…but later on, you might need even more. Of course, it all depends on your bodyweight and specific needs. So, although 300 extra calories is a rough estimate, it’s really best to talk to your healthcare provider about the appropriate amount of extra calories for you.

The following is a list of what you need to eat, every day:

  • Vitamin C
  • Protein
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Whole grains

If you eat lots of colorful vegetables, including extra dark, leafy vegetables as well as at least three servings of fruit, you’re on your way to a healthy pregnancy. Also, build up good bones to get you through pregnancy by getting plenty of calcium—but the calcium is also important for the bones of your developing child. If you’re lactose intolerant or don’t eat dairy products, check out this information on alternative sources of calcium. It’s very crucial to have enough protein during pregnancy so that all of the cells that are growing so rapidly and forming your baby will be strong, and have enough amino acids (the building blocks that make up protein but also build cells). You might have to cut out some of your favorite treats during pregnancy, and raw fish is the number one food to go. Sushi and sashimi as well as raw oysters and seared tuna and all uncooked seafood can lead to complications and illness in your fetus. The FDA recommends that pregnant women avoid eating any fish more than twice a week, and completely avoid such fish as shark, swordfish and king mackerel due to the high levels of mercury present in these fish. Too much mercury from fish can build up in your body and harm the nervous system of your developing fetus.

Get enough fluids, especially water, in your diet. You should already be drinking eight glasses (64 oz.) of water every day, but if you aren’t a conscientious fluid drinker, now is the time to start. Not only is your body made mostly of water, but so is your baby’s. And that means you need to make sure your baby has enough water to grow and be healthy, just like you need enough water to grow and be healthy. So get yourself a great big jug, or a trendy thermos, and keep filling it up…all day long. You can also get some fluids throughout the day from other drinks, including milk (two-thirds water—great way to get calcium, too), juices (get your vitamins in as well), sparkling water and even (decaffeinated) iced tea. But, steer clear of sugar-loaded fluids and avoid soda. Enough fluids, especially if the majority is water, will also:

  • Alleviate constipation
  • Help your skin feel soft/ clear up your skin
  • Relieve swelling
  • Reduce risk of urinary tract infections
  • Flush out waste and harmful toxins in your system

When it comes to fluids, caffeine-laden drinks are not recommended for pregnant women. In fact, caffeine is generally advised against because it worsens symptoms of pregnancy such as nausea. The effects caffeine has on your developing fetus are not clear, and the subject is often debated. We do know that caffeine is a stimulant, and a drug, and it’s not going to improve your child’s health. Don’t forget there’s caffeine in lots of places you wouldn’t expect, including chocolate.

Everywhere you turn, you probably see more stringent diet guidelines for pregnant women asking you to count calories, optimize every meal, and constantly think about eating for the baby. And while eating for the baby is very important, and getting the right amount of nutrients is equally as important, pregnancy can be an already stressful time and the added pressure of sticking to a diet may just put you over the edge. So, whether you need to indulge in a little chocolate or a cheeseburger to help you deal with a tough day, or whether you don’t have the energy to prepare dark vegetables with every meal, the right diet is up to you to create, on your own terms. Just make sure that you eat enough food—not getting enough calories can be very damaging to your child’s health—and get plenty of the right nutrients for your child. All women freak out when they realize they really are going to gain weight during pregnancy—and a lot of it. But gaining weight is a natural part of the process, and cutting out calories, fasting (even for religious reasons) or dieting will only hurt your baby’s health—and your own. For these nine months, stay away from dieting and surrender to the fact that you’re going to gain weight, and it’s okay. If you think of your baby’s developing body every time you go to eat (or not eat), you’ll most likely make the right decisions. [back to top]

Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you have to stay in bed and avoid all forms of physical activity. Some people even believe that the most healthy pregnancies involve some form of light to moderate physical activity throughout the nine months. Of course, when it comes to exercise, it all depends on you. Before you start developing a new and improved pregnancy exercise plan, you must consult your doctor. Only your provider will be able to tell you for sure if you can or can’t exercise. Some pregnancies are more complicated than others, and certain physical activity can cause unnecessary risks. In these cases, the doctor will probably recommend rest in lieu of a trip to the gym. If your provider says exercise isn’t for you, don’t be too bummed out—it’s an excuse to take it easy for nine months, and you might think of it as a blessing for your stress level and for the health of your little baby-to-be.

For the rest of the women who get the a-okay from the doctor on the exercising factor, it’s time to start preparing for the workout. Exercise when you’re pregnant is much different from exercise when you aren’t pregnant. First things first: you’re bigger. So, that means you might have to forego the cute tank-tops and spandex for a more comfortable gym get-up that includes a supportive maternity bra.

The next thing : take it easy. If you’re not an experienced athlete, then that means take it extra easy. Let’s face it—you weren’t a marathon runner before you got pregnant, you’re certainly not going to be one while you’re pregnant. Keep the over-ambitious exercise goals until after the baby is born (if you find the time!), and take up an activity that is low-impact, healthy and fun. The best options for you are brisk walks (which can be taken tandem with other pregnant mothers), swimming (in moderate temperature water), and low-impact activities at the gym such as the stationary bike, step machine, elliptical (great for low-impact exercise) and low-intensity weight training. All of these activities should be undertaken according to your own preference, and at your own pace. Don’t ever think of exercise during pregnancy as “pushing yourself.” Instead, think of it as giving yourself time to de-stress and strengthen your health. You can incorporate relaxation into your exercise routine by choosing activities you enjoy, like aqua-aerobics; or relaxation-focused exercises, like prenatal yoga.

If you’re an experienced athlete, you’ll need to cut back on the exercise regimen you enjoyed as a non-pregnant woman. For example, if you’re a runner it’s recommended that you keep your training to under two miles a day and refrain from sprinting. You can find other forms of activity, such as walking and swimming, to help you get a good workout. Every woman’s body is different, and some women who are in excellent shape may be able to continue with semi-strenuous work-outs well into their pregnancy. The only safe bet when it comes to determining your exercising guidelines is to talk to your doctor and find out what your personal situation is.

One exercise that every pregnant woman should try to incorporate into her routine is the Kegel exercise. The Kegel exercise is designed to strengthen your pelvic floor. Kegels are very beneficial for strengthening before labor, for retaining bladder control and for increasing sexual pleasure particularly after birth. These exercises are quite simple and can be done anywhere. You only have to squeeze your vaginal muscles (the same sensation of holding in your urine) and let go, repeatedly. Try to flex for certain amounts of time, and then let go. [back to top]

Pregnancy and high blood pressure
Some women who have never had high blood pressure in their life develop it during pregnancy. Women are at an even greater risk of developing high blood pressure during the last three months of pregnancy.

If you are diagnosed with hypertension, you will need to keep a close eye on your heart health and monitor your blood pressure. Speak to your physician about other steps you can take to lower your blood pressure, including certain medications.

When you’re pregnant, there are some things you just can’t get away with. In fact, some habits really need to be kicked immediately upon finding out that you’re pregnant. That’s why, in some cases, its better to start preparing for the pregnancy before conception to modify your habits in advance of crunch time.

Don’t drink alcohol. Abstaining from drinking any alcohol during pregnancy is the best choice you can make. Just think about it: Everything you consume, your baby consumes too. Heavy drinking during pregnancy has been linked with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Babies born with FAS tend to have a very low birth weight, mental deficiency, deformities (of the head and face, heart, limbs and nervous system), and a high mortality rate. But the effects of FAS continue as the baby grows, and can cause learning, behavioral and social problems, particularly affecting judgment and the ability to reason between right and wrong. Moderate drinking is also linked with some problems including miscarriage, low birth weight, complicated labor and delivery, stillbirth and developmental problems.

Don't smoke. Everyone knows somebody who smoked while pregnant and popped out strapping young infants. In fact, even Jackie Onassis Kennedy smoked when she was pregnant back in the 50s. But, times are changing—and research shows that smoking isn’t as glamorous as it used to be. It’s also hazardous to the health of your infant when you smoke while you’re pregnant—especially in the long term. Why take the chance? Quit smoking as soon as you find out you’re pregnant to avoid the possibility of any complications. And, you may find that protecting your unborn child is the only motivation you ever needed to kick the habit you’ve been trying to stop for years.

Smoking during pregnancy has been linked with:

  • Preterm birth
  • Low birthweight
  • Shorter length of newborn
  • Cleft palate and cleft lip
  • Smaller head
  • Stillbirth
  • SIDS
  • Other infant illnesses
  • Long-term intellectual and physical problems in baby
  • Respiratory disease in newborn/child

If you’ve been smoking during your pregnancy, it’s not too late to quit. Some studies show if you quit smoking before the third month of pregnancy, you will be able to reduce the risk to that of a non-smoker. Because of all of the risks associated with cigarette smoke, as a non-smoker, you should avoid secondhand smoke as well. Your partner should quit smoking to help promote a healthy environment for you and the baby. By quitting smoking and creating a smoke-free environment for your newborn infant, you’ll be planning ahead to make your baby’s first days of life easy, comfortable and healthy.

Don't use drugs. If you use drugs for fun, stop now that you’re pregnant. If you have a dependency, it may be more difficult for you to cut out your drug use—but it’s essential. All illegal drugs are harmful to your baby. They are foreign, and in many cases toxic, substances you will be sharing with your baby every time you put them into your body. Some women continue to smoke marijuana throughout pregnancy because they believe it’s less harmful than cigarettes. Although marijuana does not produce the same risks as cigarette smoke for pregnancy, it has its own slew of health risks to contend with. Marijuana use during pregnancy has been linked with:

  • Excessive weight gain
  • Severe vomiting
  • Complicated labor and delivery
  • Respiratory problems in the baby
  • Birth defects or cancer in the baby
  • Symptoms similar to fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth

Most illegal drugs, including marijuana and cocaine, cross the placenta—which means they are shared with your baby. Cocaine is particularly damaging to a baby and can cause miscarriage, dangerous bleeding, premature labor, stillbirth, long-term health conditions, and even addiction in the baby—the effects of continual cocaine use on an unborn child are plentiful. Every illegal drug is bad for your pregnancy and can cause serious health problems in your child. If you can’t stop drug use immediately, talk with your doctor or a counselor to help you quit. It’s the least you can do for your child. [back to top]

Click below to read about related topics.

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