Let’s face it, getting healthy is never a bad idea. But when you’re trying to get pregnant – or even if you’re just thinking about it – it’s definitely time to get serious about your own health. Why? Because working on your own health – eating right, exercising, eliminating poor lifestyle habits, etc. – is key for your baby’s happy, healthy arrival. Doctors tell us that women who eat a balanced diet, maintain an appropriate weight, exercise on a regular basis and receive appropriate prenatal care are more likely to have a healthy pregnancy and in turn, deliver a healthy baby.
So, what are you waiting for?
Let’s start at the very beginning
If you’re wondering when to put in place your “let’s get healthy plan…..” that would be now. Doctors say if you’re trying to conceive, in the pregnancy planning stage or even the pre-planning stages, start making health choices as if you already are pregnant.
“You should try and be as healthy as you possibly can before you get pregnant,” says Menorah Medical Center’s Nicole Niemann, MD, a board-certified family practice physician providing OB care. “We like to meet with women as they start planning because we can give them advice for healthy eating and weight management, get them started on prenatal vitamins and folic acid and help them understand early pregnancy development steps.”
As you’re making that all-important pregnancy planning list, finding a doctor should be at the top. You’re going to spend a lot of time with your doctor and the office staff, so choose someone you can relate to and an office where you feel comfortable. Regardless of who you choose, prenatal care is a must for a healthy pregnancy.
“It’s the mom’s health and her baby’s, so we’re absolutely there for them. There’s no such thing as a dumb question,” says Dr. Niemann. “We want patients to feel empowered and in control. One way to do that is to ask all their questions. During the first prenatal visit, you get a big packet of information and it’s a lot to take in, so sometimes you need to go over things a few times.”
As you’re ramping up on your pregnancy knowledge, Dr. Niemann says, it doesn’t hurt to be judicious with information sources – specifically the ubiquitous internet and well-intentioned advice from others.
“I love an educated mom,” she says. “And it’s great that there’s so much information at your fingertips. But before a mom makes any changes because of something she read on the internet, or takes a supplement a friend or relative recommended, I really want her to talk to me. As doctors, it’s important for us to be in the loop so we can offer a good medical perspective.”
The balancing act – appropriate pregnancy nutrition
While intermittent fasting may be the latest and greatest weight loss strategy for the stars, it’s really not the thing for pregnancy.
“Pregnancy is not the time to suddenly try dieting or losing weight,” Dr. Niemann stresses. “While being at an appropriate weight is important, it’s also important to have a balanced, nutritionally sound diet. You need vitamins and healthy foods more than ever when you’re pregnant.”
A well-balanced diet really starts with making sure you get all your food groups in. A few tips:
- Color your plate: Fruits and veggies are a good bet for lots of vitamins and nutrients, and the more colors you have on your plate, the more nutritious it likely is.
- Going with the grain: Grains are packed with nutrients like iron, selenium, and are a good source for fiber.
- Lean, mean protein: Protein can help you feel stronger. While chicken may be a fave, expand your thinking to plant-based proteins, which can have fewer calories than meat-based.
- Got milk…or something like it? Dairy provides bone- and teeth-building calcium, vitamin D.
As a rule of thumb, experts advise cutting out processed lunchmeats, soft cheeses, unpasteurized dairy products, refrigerated pates or meat spreads, raw fish and sushi, given their risk of harmful parasites.
“I would also caution against the mindset of ‘I’m pregnant I can eat anything I want,’” says Dr. Niemann. “If you need a sugar fix, reach for an apple instead of a candy bar. Fruit can give you the sugar you’re craving and it’s a healthier alternative.”
It’s your life… right?
Kicking the habit – or perhaps more than one habit – is tough to do. But when you’re pregnant, unhealthy lifestyle choices may harm your unborn baby:
- Smoking – In a word, don't. This goes for mom and dad, and includes vaping. Smoking can increase the risk of miscarriage and birth defects.
- Recreational Drugs – Both legal and illegal drugs risk baby's health.
- Alcohol – It's best to stop drinking as soon as you begin to try and get pregnant. Even moderate drinking during pregnancy has been linked to increased chance of miscarriage.
- Caffeine – You don't have to completely give up your morning jolt, but limit yourself to a 12-ounce cup of coffee or one soda or less per day.
Let’s Keep it Moving
Exercise is good for your mental, physical and emotional health, especially when you’re pregnant. Even just 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise – walking, swimming, jogging – can help with your endurance, muscle strength and keeping stress at bay. What kind of exercise? That’s up to you and your doctor. Before you start any program make sure and chat about it with your doctor.
“If I have an active mom such as a runner, cycler or someone who does strength training, I encourage them to continue, but always listen to their bodies,” says Dr. Niemann. “If they start to feel uncomfortable, or exercise becomes painful, it may be time to do something else. At the same time, when you get pregnant is not the time to suddenly start an extreme exercise program.”
Mental and emotional health
Everyday stress doesn’t disappear when you become pregnant. In fact, once those pregnancy hormones take over, things can seem even more stressful or worrisome. If you’re struggling, talk to your doctor, advises Dr. Niemann.
“We like to think every pregnant woman has great support,” she says, “but that’s not always the case. If there’s anything we can do to ease the stress or worry of a woman’s pregnancy, we will certainly try. There are counseling options, safe medicines and other ways to help manage stress and emotional issues. Always let your doctor know if you’re having a hard time.”
When you’re expecting, we deliver
When you’re ready to start a family, HCA Midwest Health has you covered, with a network of ObGyn specialists across the community. Our doctors have decades of experience in maternity care, and are committed to helping ensure your delivery is extra-special.