During pregnancy, your body and the developing fetus demands a lot from you. You feel tired and nauseated, and yet, you are expected to eat well and stay active. It can be pretty overwhelming, especially in the first trimester when beta-hCG levels are high. Several scientific experiments have shown that estrogen and hCG play a role in nausea and vomiting. The hormones are there to stay, because they maintain the pregnancy. Nevertheless, you need to cope with all the body changes and remain healthy.
With these five pregnancy care tips, you can keep yourself and your little one in top notch condition. Please note that these 5 tips are equally important for women planning, during and after pregnancy (particularly during breastfeeding).
1. Healthy diet
Healthy eating is essential for the growth and development of your baby not only in utero but also later in life. To get the nutrients that both you need, you must eat from all the major food groups. A healthy diet contains adequate energy, proteins, vitamins and minerals from green and orange vegetables, bread and whole grains, meat, fish, legumes, nuts, pasteurized dairy products and 2 – 4 servings daily of fruits.
You will find yourself feeling hungry, but you do not have to ‘eat for two’. Instead, aim to increase your calorie intake by 300 calories, eating five to six well-balanced meals per day. If you feel hungry in between meals, try not to reach out for snacks that are high in fat and sugar. Go for something nutritious like low-fat fruit yoghurt, vegetable salad or a slice of toasted fruit bread. Keeping yourself hydrated with plain water is also a requirement.
You will notice that you are constantly gaining weight – this is completely normal. The body uses fat or energy stored during labour for breastfeeding. However, excessive weight gain predisposes you to complications such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and obesity. Therefore, the right quality and quantity of nutrition are key. Regular visits to your clinician to monitor the rate of your weight change is important as well as several health screens, such as blood pressure, your sugar level, and blood grouping (your doctor will need to know what blood group you are and your rhesus status), vitamin and mineral levels (importantly iron studies, B12, folic acid), and your immunity or exposure to rubella and other infectious diseases.
2. The prenatal vitamins
Although the primary source of vitamins and nutrients is your diet, supplementation is also important. Even with a healthy diet, you may fall short of some vital nutrients, and that is why it is a general practice to supplement before, during and after pregnancy. The difference between prenatal multivitamins and the usual adult vitamins is that they typically contain more iron, calcium and folic acid. Folic acid prevents congenital malformations such as neural tube defects, while iron helps to prevent anaemia.
Some of the prenatal vitamins are available over-the-counter. It is wise to get a prescription or always talk to your healthcare provider and even carry the bottle during your first antenatal care visit. Your doctor will check whether the doses are safe- taking more than 100% of the recommended daily allowance may jeopardise your health.
A good daily supplement should pack in at least 1000-1300mg of calcium, 400mg of folic acid, 27mg of iron, 150mcg of iodine, and 5mcg of vitamin D, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
For some women, vitamins and iron may worsen nausea and vomiting. If this is the case, take them at night with a light snack. Also, consider eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, chewing gum after taking the supplement. If that does not work, talk to your obstetrician to prescribe a different type of supplement that you can tolerate.
It is important to note that prenatal vitamins should complement a healthy diet.
Staying active is essential for any healthy pregnancy. It will help you control weight gain, improve blood circulation, boost your moods, and help you sleep better. Exercise also helps to build endurance for labour and makes getting your pre-pregnancy body shape easier. The safest activities include swimming, walking, cycling and low-impact aerobics. Begin with 15 to 30 minutes at least four times a week. As a general rule, the intensity of the exercise should allow you to have a meaningful conversation, without getting breathless. You will need to slow down as the pregnancy progresses or when your doctor advises you to.
Do not try to overdo your pre-pregnancy level of exercise, and always choose low impact aerobics as against high impact. Do as your body allows you to. If you have always been a non-active person, then choose walking for 30 minutes or low impact aerobics only.
4. Get adequate sleep
Sleep may not seem so important to you, which might cause you to think that getting adequate rest may not be a priority. However, you need sufficient sleep to nourish the development of the baby and replenish your energy levels. During the first trimester, you may find yourself sleeping a lot during the day, but as the pregnancy progresses, sleep time reduces. Sleep deprivation has been associated with preterm labour, postpartum depression, and a high rate of Caesarean sections. Moreover, bad sleeping habits worsen pregnancy discomforts like nausea, vomiting, fatigue, heartburn and leg cramps.
For better sleep, cut down on caffeine, drink less in the evening and avoid heavy and spicy dinners. If you are troubled by nausea, snack just before bedtime to keep your stomach from being empty. During the day, take 30-60-minute naps or practice sleep-inducing techniques like deep breathing and muscle relaxation.
5. Avoid over-the-counter medications
Less than 10% of the approved drugs have sufficient information on their safety for pregnancy. Many online resources post lists of drugs that are known to be safe, but there is not enough information to prove the claims. The best thing is to always talk to your healthcare provider about any medication that you are taking or thinking of taking.
For all the aforementioned tips, the dosages and mixture of supplements may vary, but following these tips might be able to help you have a problem-free pregnancy. Choose good habits and shun the bad ones even before getting pregnant. Above all, always listen to your body and talk to your doctor if you have any worries.
If you’re interested in learning more about beta HCG and how it affects your pregnancy, read on more about it in our biomarker post here!