Now that you know you're pregnant, it's more important than ever to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally. You can boost your chances of having a problem-free pregnancy and a healthy baby by following a few simple guidelines.
Get early prenatal care
Good prenatal care is essential for you and your baby. Call your healthcare provider right away and schedule your first prenatal visit, During that visit you'll be screened for certain conditions that could lead to complications.
Inside pregnancy: Weeks 1 to 9
If you haven't yet chosen a provider, get started now. Finding the right person — whether you're looking for a doctor or a midwife — can take a while. In the meantime, let your current caregiver know if you're taking medication or have any medical concerns.
Watch what you eat
Now that you're eating for two, you may be surprised to learn that you only need about 300 additional calories per day. Make sure you get plenty of protein. You now need 70 grams a day compared to 45 grams before you got pregnant. And while your calcium requirement remains the same, it’s more important than ever that you meet it, which is a challenge for many women. You'll want to steer clear of undercooked eggs and meat, unpasteurized dairy products and juices, raw seafood, and cold deli meats to avoid ingesting bacteria that could harm your baby. Also avoid certain fish that may contain high levels of mercury or other contaminants.
Take prenatal vitamins
Most prenatal supplements contain more folic acid and iron than you'll find in a standard multivitamin. It's important to get enough folic acid before conception and during early pregnancy. Folic acid greatly reduces your baby's risk of developing neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida. Ideally, you should start taking 400 micrograms of folic acid at least one month before becoming pregnant. Once your pregnancy is confirmed, up your daily dose to 600 mcg. You also need to make sure you're getting enough iron. Your iron requirement increases significantly during pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimesters. But more is not necessarily better — taking too much of certain things can actually be harmful. Avoid megadoses of any vitamin, and don't take any additional supplements or herbal preparations without your caregiver's okay.
A good exercise program can give you the strength and endurance you'll need to carry the weight you gain during pregnancy, help prevent or ease aches and pains, improve sluggish circulation in your legs, and help you handle the physical stress of labor. It will also make getting back into shape after your baby's born much easier. What's more, exercise is a great way to reduce stress, and some research suggests that staying active can boost your level of serotonin, a brain chemical linked to mood. Just remember not to push yourself too hard or let yourself get overheated or dehydrated. (You'll also need to avoid hot tubs and saunas while you're pregnant.)
Get some rest
The fatigue you feel in the first and third trimesters is your body's way of telling you to slow down. So listen up and take it easy as much as you can. If you can't swing a nap in the middle of the day, give yourself a break and let your other responsibilities slide a little. If you can't sleep, at least put your feet up and read a book or leaf through a magazine. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, stretching, deep breathing, and massage are all great ways to combat stress and get a better night's sleep.
Just say no to alcohol
Don't drink while you're pregnant: Any alcohol you drink reaches your baby rapidly through your bloodstream, crossing the placenta, and your baby can end up with higher levels of blood alcohol than you have.
As little as one drink a day can increase your odds of having a low-birthweight baby and increase your child's risk for problems with learning, speech, attention span, language, and hyperactivity. And some research has shown that expectant moms who have as little as one drink a week are more likely than nondrinkers to have children who later exhibit aggressive and delinquent behavior.
Women who have more than two drinks a day are at greater risk for giving birth to a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Children born with this condition suffer from mental and growth retardation, behavioral problems, and facial and heart defects. Drinking also increases your risk for miscarriage and stillbirth. So play it safe — avoid alcohol completely and have a nonalcoholic drink instead. Let your caregiver know if you're having trouble giving up alcohol, so you can get help.
Swear off all illicit drugs
Any drug you use gets into your baby's bloodstream as well. Some studies suggest that marijuana may restrict your baby's growth and cause withdrawal symptoms (like tremors) in your newborn. Using cocaine is extremely dangerous. It restricts the flow of blood to the uterus and may lead to miscarriage, growth problems, placental abruption, or premature delivery. Your baby could be stillborn or have birth defects or developmental and behavioral problems. Other drugs can be very harmful, too. If you have a drug problem, seek help now.
Smoking increases the risk of miscarriage, growth problems, placental abruption, and premature delivery. Some research has even linked smoking to an increased risk of having a baby with a cleft lip or palate. Not convinced yet? Smoking during pregnancy increases the chance that a baby will be stillborn or die in infancy. It's never too late to quit or cut back. Every cigarette you don't light gives your baby a better chance of being healthy. If you're unable to quit on your own, ask your caregiver for a referral to a smoking cessation program. Even if you're not a smoker, stay away from secondhand smoke.
Cut back on caffeine
The March of Dimes advises women to limit their caffeine consumption intake to less than 200 mg per day, an amount you could get from one 8-ounce cup of strong coffee. This recommendation came from a 2008 study showing that women who consumed that much doubled their risk of miscarriage compared to those who had no caffeine.
What's more, caffeine has no nutritive value and makes it harder for your body to absorb iron, something pregnant women are already low on. It's also a stimulant, so it can make it even harder for you to get a good night's sleep, give you headaches, and contribute to heartburn. Limit your coffee drinking or consider switching to decaf. And check the caffeine content of other products you consume, like tea, soft drinks, "energy" drinks, chocolate, and coffee ice cream, as well as over-the-counter drugs, such as headache, cold, and allergy remedies.
Eliminate environmental dangers
Some jobs can be hazardous to you and your developing baby. If you're routinely exposed to chemicals, heavy metals (like lead or mercury), certain biologic agents, or radiation, you'll need to make some changes as soon as possible. Keep in mind that some cleaning products, pesticides, solvents, and lead in drinking water from old pipes can also be harmful. Talk to your doctor or midwife about what your daily routine involves, so you can come up with ways to avoid or eliminate hazards in your home and workplace.
See your dentist
Don't forget about your oral health: Brush, floss, and get regular dental care. Hormonal shifts during pregnancy can make you more susceptible to gum disease. Increased progesterone and estrogen levels can cause the gums to react differently to the bacteria in plaque, resulting in swollen, bleeding, tender gums (gingivitis). So see your dentist for a checkup and cleaning now if you haven't had a visit in the last six months.
Take care of your emotional health
Many women feel like they're on an emotional roller coaster at one time or another during pregnancy. But if your mood swings are extreme or interfering with your daily life, you may be suffering from depression, a relatively common condition. If you've been feeling low for more than two weeks and nothing seems to lift your spirits — or if you're feeling particularly anxious — share your feelings with your caregiver so you can get a referral for professional help. Also let your caregiver know if you're in an abusive relationship. Pregnancy can cause stress in any relationship, and it's a common trigger of domestic violence, which puts your health and your baby at risk.