As a second time mom, I’m realizing more and more the importance of a healthy lifestyle when it comes to fertility, pregnancy, and the postpartum months that follow. Many argue that it’s all about the baby, but I beg to differ: if Mom isn’t healthy and isn’t well, physically and mentally, baby can’t possibly thrive. It’s essential for Mom to take care of herself before, during, and after pregnancy so that she can be the best version of herself for her child.
Here are five tips to stay healthy during pregnancy (and beyond!):
I know it may be tempting to overindulge during pregnancy. After all, you do have two bodies to feed, right? Feel free to indulge in cravings once in a while, but be conscientious your daily needs and calories. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advises that pregnant women only need an extra 200 calories per day in the last three months of pregnancy. No extra calories are needed until that point. So think twice before you decide to eat cake and ice cream for dinner!
Aim for starchy foods (bread, cereals, potatoes, rice, and pasta), fruit and vegetables, fiber-rich foods (whole grains, fruit, and vegetables), protein, and calcium-rich foods. Make sure you get plenty of iron, calcium and folic acid, all essential for a growing baby. Eat breakfast every day to kick start your metabolism, pick high fiber foods, and prepare small meals every few hours if you experience heartburn.
During my first pregnancy, I was exhausted all the time and couldn’t even think about going to the gym. This time around, with more energy and motivation, I’ve been trying to stay active almost every day. My workouts of choice are pilates and walking/hiking, because I always know I am not overdoing it and have control. Pilates can easily be modified for pregnancy (I use a foam wedge to not lie flat on my back) and your pace during walks can always be adjusted as well. The key is to listen to your body and know when to slow down, take a break, or stop.
It’s important to know what to avoid during pregnancy, because many ingredients can cross the placenta and affect your growing baby.
In the food and drink department, it’s important to avoid alcohol and caffeine, first and foremost. There are many schools of thought on the issue, but I recommend waiting until after pregnancy to enjoy that glass of wine or cup of coffee: evidence-based research has found that drinking even small amounts of alcohol while pregnant can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, or sudden infant death syndrome. When it comes to coffee, excessive consumption has been associated with a higher incidence of miscarriage and low birth weight. Plus, as it does in adults, caffeine increases a baby’s heart rate.
When it comes to medication, always ask your doctor before taking anything. Paracetamol at a small dose is considered safe during pregnancy, but avoid other anti-inflammatory drugs, antihistamines, and decongestants. Check out my post, “Natural Pain Relief for Pregnant and Nursing Moms” for some natural home remedies.
Pregnancy is the best time to drop any vices you have (smoking, alcohol, excessive coffee drinking) and focus on a healthier lifestyle. When I found out I was pregnant the first time, I threw out all of my makeup and beauty products and bought organic, paraben-free items that I knew would not harm my baby. It’s crucial to avoid salicylic acid (found in most acne cleansers) and retinol creams (anti aging creams) as they can harm your baby as well.
Same goes for food: if pesticides can be harmful to adults, imagine what they do to a fetus! Buy organic produce when possible and read labels carefully. A good rule of thumb is: if you can’t pronounce it, you most likely don’t want it inside your body. A good way to ensure your diet is not deficient in any way is to take a prenatal and supplements. I swear by the brand Rainbow Light for my prenatal vitamin (no funky ingredients) and take algal oil, a vegetarian source of omega-3s and DHA, for its many health benefits. Check out my post, “Supplements for Pregnancy & Nursing” for some of my other favorite supplements (I wrote the post last year when I wasn’t vegan yet!)
I’m a big believer that you should follow your gut during pregnancy. Your body will always tell you when it needs a break or can’t handle something; it’s essential to take your body’s cues and rest when necessary. If you’re feeling a little concerned about baby, do not hesitate to use an at-home fetal monitor for some added reassurance. I love the feeling I get when I use my Up & Raise monitor and hear my baby’s strong heartbeat almost right away! Finally, always call your doctor right away if anything doesn’t feel right (contractions, bleeding, etc.) and, above all, trust your instincts.
They’re usually always right.