There are a number of different emotions people go through when they discover they are pregnant. Excitement is perhaps the most common, but it is also natural to experience a little bit of anxiety too, especially when considering the best things to do for the health of mother and baby. Often there are many questions, ranging from what food is safe to eat to exercise tips to stay healthy. We'll be looking to answer some of those questions here.
It is important that most women take part in regular exercise, and moderate exercise is safe and can benefit both mother and child in most cases. However, you do need to be sensible as to the extent you decide to exercise and ensure you don't over-extend yourself, especially if you're not used to regular exercise. In fact it's often a good idea to check in with your doctor or antenatal clinic in the early stages of your pregnancy to discuss your exercise plans. Generally speaking, the guidelines for physical activity are no different for pregnant women than for the rest of the population - at least 30 minutes worth of moderate-intensity exercise a day.
Diet and dietary supplements
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is really important during pregnancy, and although you may feel hungrier than before you were pregnant, you should avoid "eating for two" if you can. Gaining too much weight can lead to complications later on in the pregnancy, as well as being difficult to shift after your baby has been born. The World Health Organization suggests a weight gain of 10-14 kg is ideal for limiting the chance of complications later on.
When planning meals, a third of your plate should be starch-based food, such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. This should be eaten with fruit and vegetables, with moderate amounts of protein. Your baby needs plenty of iron, calcium and folic acid from very early on in your pregnancy, so it is vital you include these on your plate. You'll find iron in many sources, including red meat, fish, pulses, seeds and green vegetables. Low-fat dairy products are good sources of calcium, while green vegetables and fortified cereals are ideal for folic acid.
While eating fish is very healthy as it contains plenty of vital nutrients, you should be wary of the type of fish you are eating. Some fish contain high levels of mercury, which can affect your baby's nervous system. Tuna should be limited to two steaks or four medium cans a week, while shark, swordfish and marlin should be avoided. Uncooked shellfish and raw fish should be cut out of your diet, while you should also avoid foods that are rich in vitamin A, such as liver.
When pregnant you should avoid alcohol altogether. Alcohol stays in a baby's system much longer than an adult's as it is unable to process it properly, which can cause serious problems. Heavy drinking while pregnant can lead to fetal deformities, brain damage and a low birth weight, known as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Even light drinking can be problematic and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines in the UK advise that if you are pregnant, do not drink at all if possible. This is especially important in the first three months. If you do drink when pregnant, have no more than one to two units of alcohol. Do not drink alcohol more than one to two times a week. This will make the risk of your baby having FAS less. Remember, the safest option is not to drink alcohol at all when pregnant.
If you are a smoker and you fall pregnant, it is strongly advisable to stop as quickly as you can. As well as damaging your own health, the poisonous chemicals contained in tobacco smoke can increase your risk of miscarriage or slow down the growth of your baby. It can also bring about early labour and stillbirth. Even after the baby has been born, the chances of the baby developing chest infections or asthma, or being at risk of cot death are greatly increased if either parent is a smoker.
Some medicines (such as paracetamol) are perfectly safe to take while you are pregnant, but there are many medicines where there is insufficient evidence of their possible effects on your baby. This means it is generally advisable to limit your use of medications unless absolutely necessary - even herbal and natural remedies should be checked out with your doctor first. If you are unsure over the safety of a medicine, seek advice from a doctor or pharmacist before using it.