General Lifestyle Issues

As you plan for your pregnancy, you should be aware of and follow some basic lifestyle changes to help you start out healthy and remain safe during your nine months.

Pre-pregnancy diet

A diet consisting of the right balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins and water constitutes a healthy diet. Maintaining a healthy diet pre-pregnancy is very important for the optimal health of you and your baby. Your diet should include food rich in calcium, such as milk and milk products; proteins, such as lean meat, soya and eggs; and high fibre foods such as as whole-grain cereals, vegetables and fruits.

Fish is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and an important nutrient for the development of your baby’s brain, before and after birth. Fatty fish like salmon is a good source of vitamin D and sardines are rich in calcium. However, fish, such as shark and swordfish, with a high concentration of mercury should be limited or avoided as mercury is responsible for causing birth defects and damaging your baby’s nervous system.

Vitamins and minerals during pregnancy

Some important vitamins and minerals to be included into your diet during pregnancy are:

  • Folic acid is a universal supplement of the vitamin B group required for healthy growth and development of your baby during the initial weeks of life. Folic acid reduces birth defects such as spina bifida (spinal cord abnormality). You are recommended a daily dose of 400-800 mg from at least one month before pregnancy and for the first three months after conceiving.
  • A growing baby has high demands for calcium and vitamin D as bones and teeth develop. Calcium can be obtained through food and as supplements. Vitamin D can be obtained from exposure to sunlight and vitamin D-fortified milk. Supplementation of vitamin D (10 micrograms/day) is recommended.
  • During pregnancy, your body produces more blood to account for the extra oxygen demand required for the growing foetus; hence, the amount of iron required to carry oxygen through the blood needs to be increased. You should include iron-rich food such as fish, poultry, lean meat, prunes and dried beans into your diet. Including vitamin C rich foods, such as tomatoes and citrus fruits, helps in faster absorption of iron in the body.
  • Other vitamin/mineral supplements containing sufficient amounts of zinc and iodine are also advised.

Diet and exercise during pregnancy

Remember that you are now eating for two – yourself and your growing baby. A well-balanced nutritious diet including carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals, is required for your baby’s overall growth and development, and keeps you and your baby healthy. Some of the foods that you are advised to avoid or limit during pregnancy include, caffeine-containing drinks, alcohol, pasteurised milk, cheese and juices, uncooked eggs, seafood and meat, and processed meat products.

If you are a vegan or vegetarian, you may be losing out on certain vital nutrients and minerals. Your doctor may suggest protein, vitamin B12 and vitamin D supplements if you do not consume meat, eggs, milk products and seafood.

While you meet all of the nutritional requirements for your developing baby, it is also important to know how many extra calories you really need and how much weight you should gain to remain healthy. On an average, you would require about an extra 300 healthy calories and a weight gain of 2 to 4 pounds during your first trimester and 1 pound each week during the remaining months. Overweight and underweight women are more prone to pregnancy complications.

Regular exercise helps you maintain your ideal weight and averts a pre-term birth, overweight babies and other complications. Get approval from your doctor before starting any kind of activity during pregnancy as not all activities are safe. Depending on your doctor’s recommendation and your capability, you can indulge in walking, swimming aerobic exercises, such as dancing, and stretching activities such as yoga, to improve your flexibility and movement.

Food safety in pregnancy

Since the food, drink and medication that you consume enter into the blood stream to nourish your baby, it is very important to choose healthy options. Consumption of alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy, and caffeine limited. Other foods to be avoided include:

  • Unpasteurised milk, cheese and juices
  • Raw eggs and foods that have raw eggs, such as Caesar salad
  • Uncooked seafood and meat
  • Processed meat products

Consult with your doctor aboutthe foods that are safe to eat during pregnancy.

Pregnancy beauty routine

Like your entire body, your skin also goes through many changes due to the hormones released during pregnancy. Before using cosmetics or following your routine beauty care, think twice, as ingredients applied on your hair, skin and nails can potentially get absorbed into the blood stream and pose risks to your developing baby. Some of the guidelines for using beauty products during pregnancy include:

  • Skin care: Generally, most facial products are safe during pregnancy as only a small amount of active ingredients can pass into your blood stream. However, avoid products containing tretinoin, and self-tanning lotions or sprays.
  • Hair care: In case of hair products such as hair dye, only a small amount can pass into your blood stream, so the risk is minimal.
  • Waxing and nail care: Although manicures and waxing are safe, a skin infection caused by these procedures can cause risk to your baby. Ensure that your parlour follows proper hygienic practices

Talk with your doctor if you are unsure about using any product.

Pelvic floor exercises

The pelvic floor is a set of muscles that form a hammock or sling to support the pelvic organs, including the womb (uterus), rectum and bladder. The excess strain applied on these muscles during pregnancy and birthing can weaken them. Weakened pelvic floor muscles may result in urinary incontinence and leakage urine, especially while laughing and coughing. Pelvic floor exercises help strengthen the pelvic floor muscle. This is how you perform pelvic floor exercises:

  • Sit and lean slightly forward with a straight back.
  • Squeeze and lift the muscles around the anus as if you are trying to stop a bowel movement. Draw in your vagina and urethra as if you are trying to stop the flow of urine.
  • Initially perform the exercise quickly and then slowly, holding the muscles as long as you can.
  • Do three sets of eight daily.

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