Being pregnant is exciting, but it is also an important time to protect the health of both yourself and your growing baby. Your doctor will likely give you a long list of dos and don’ts for each trimester, but there are some basic needs every expectant mother should be aware of. Essential needs of a pregnant woman include:
- Meeting nutritional needs
- Managing health conditions
- Practicing healthy habits
- Reducing stress
- Preparing for childbirth and parenting
Nutritional needs during pregnancy
Pregnant women have special nutritional needs to support the growth and development of the fetus. Poor nutrition can have serious consequences, such as low birth weight or preterm birth.
Depending on your weight and activity level, your calorie requirements may vary during pregnancy. Most pregnant women require about 1,800 calories during their first trimester, 2,200 calories during the second trimester, and 2,400 calories during the third trimester. Doctors usually recommend a weight increase of 25-35 pounds during pregnancy.
- Folic acid: Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps prevent birth abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord, such as spina bifida. Nutritionists recommend pregnant women to consume folic acid daily during pregnancy. Folic acid or its natural form, folate, can be found in a variety of foods such as fortified breakfast cereals and naturally exists in foods such as dry beans, citrus fruits, and leafy greens including spinach, asparagus, and broccoli.
- Calcium: Calcium helps with bone building and is found in milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, broccoli, and spinach. Pregnant women over 18 require 1,000 mg per day, whereas pregnant women under 18 require 1,300 mg per day. Prenatal supplements often contain calcium, vitamin D, and other bone-building compounds.
- Protein: Pregnant women require 75-100 grams of protein a day. Meat, poultry, shellfish, legumes, and nuts are high in protein and other nutrients, including zinc, magnesium, and iron. However, pregnant women should avoid eating swordfish and king mackerel and limit the consumption of fish that contain high levels of mercury, which can harm the baby's neurological system.
- Iron: During pregnancy, it is important to eat a diet rich in iron. Food sources of iron include lean meat, chicken, fish, beans, and whole grains.
- Fruits and vegetables: Pregnant women should consume about 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily. Vitamins C and A, folate, fiber and other phytochemicals that can help you and your growing baby stay healthy. The water content and fiber in fruits and vegetables can also prevent constipation during pregnancy.
- Hydration: Aim to have about 6-8 cups of fluids daily. Because caffeinated beverages can affect the baby’s heart rate and breathing, most experts recommend limiting the consumption of caffeine during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, no amount of alcohol is considered safe. Pregnant women are also more susceptible to foodborne illness, so it is important to take precautionary measures when cooking or handling food.
Managing health conditions during pregnancy
- Manage existing medical conditions: If you have pre-existing health problems that require attention, such as diabetes, epilepsy, high blood pressure, heart disease, or depression, you should discuss disease management with your doctor.
- Consult with a doctor early in your pregnancy: Learn about health requirements for you and your growing baby and follow your doctor’s instructions.
- Learn about your family medical history: If you have a history of pregnancy complications or birth abnormalities caused by inherited family disorders, discuss your concerns with your doctor.
- Learn about potential health risks: Exposure to infections, such as measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), or zika virus, can endanger your unborn child. Consult your doctor for advice on how to protect yourself.
Practicing healthy habits during pregnancy
- Exercise as regularly as possible during pregnancy: Walking, swimming, yoga, and stretching are great low-impact activities that you can try while pregnant.
- Avoid extreme diets or weight-reduction efforts: Avoid extreme diets. Eat a healthy, balanced diet that provides you and your baby with adequate nutrients.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs: Even minimal exposure to such substances can harm a developing child.
- Avoid exposure to toxic chemicals: Avoid exposure to mercury, asbestos, lead, some cleaning products, and other potentially hazardous chemicals.
Reducing stress during pregnancy
Studies have shown that stress can negatively affect the growth and development of children even in the womb. Stress can cause the release of chemicals in the body that can negatively impact the baby’s brain.
- Use relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques can be beneficial for pregnant women not just throughout pregnancy but also during the labor and delivery process. Examples include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization techniques.
- Avoid stressors: Try to reduce stress by avoiding things or situations that can lead to conflict or anxiety. Pregnant women can engage in hobbies or other relaxing activities such as meditation and listening to music to stay calm during pregnancy.
Preparing for childbirth and parenting
- Attend childbirth classes: Participating in a birthing class can help you connect with other expectant parents and help you feel more prepared for labor and delivery.
- Attend parenting classes: Seeking out parenting classes or groups that teach you how to take care of a newborn can help you learn practical skills you will need as a parent.
- Read about child development: Reading books and articles about the stages of a child’s development from pregnancy to toddlerhood can help you feel better prepared about taking care of your child’s needs.
- Communicate with your partner: Discuss with your partner how you will address parenting responsibilities once your baby is born.
Mann D. The Essential Pregnancy Gear List for Expectant Moms. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/baby/features/the-essential-pregnancy-gear-list_for-expectant-moms
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Nutrition during Pregnancy. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy
Meadows A. 12 Ways to Stay Healthy During Pregnancy. Brigham and Women's Hospital. https://brighamhealthhub.org/12-ways-to-stay-healthy-during-pregnancy/
National Institutes of Health. Health Tips for Pregnant Women. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/healthy-eating-physical-activity-for-life/health-tips-for-pregnant-women
LaFee S. 36 Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy. UC San Diego Health. https://health.ucsd.edu/news/features/pages/2016-01-05-36-pregnancy-tips-listicle.aspx
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