Get yourself in peak condition for pregnancy with good nutrition and optimum fitness and you can stay well through the whole nine months.
Keeping fit, healthy, eating well, not smoking and watching your weight will greatly increase your chances of a trouble-free pregnancy and a healthy baby.
Before you conceive
‘The best time to work on improving your health is before you conceive,’ says midwife Mervi Jokinen, an adviser to the Royal College of Midwives.
- Achieve a healthy weight: “There’s evidence that losing weight if you’re overweight can increase chances of conceiving and, if you’re underweight and your periods have stopped, gaining weight so you have a healthy body mass index (BMI) can mean you start ovulating again and may become pregnant,” says Mervi, ‘There’s evidence in the Fertility and Sterility journal that your partner’s sperm count will be affected if he is very overweight.’ To calculate your BMI divide your weight in kg by your height in metres squared (online calculators can do this). Below 18.5 is underweight, 18.5-24.9 is the ideal weight for your height, 25-30 is overweight, 30-40 is obese and 40 or more is morbidly obese.
- Take a daily 400mcg folic acid supplement: This reduces the chances of your baby developing a neural tube defect such as Spina bifida by 75 per cent, says The Spina Bifida Association.
- Quit smoking: Smoking will harm your baby – it’s linked to low birth weight and premature labour, according to the NHS.
- Eat a balanced diet: Aim for a healthy balanced diet based on carbohydrates, lean proteins, at least five portions of fruit and vegetables daily, two portions of oily fish weekly, dairy products and whole grains.
- Take regular exercise:Exercise will help you lose weight and build lean muscle which will speed up metabolism. Recent research from the Harvard School of Public Health showed men who exercised for at least 15 hours a week had a higher sperm count.
- Cut down on booze: Official guidance from the Department of Health (DoH) when trying to conceive is to avoid alcohol or keep to 1-2 units once or twice a week and not get drunk.
Healthy eating habits in pregnancy
- Eat regularly: ‘Once you’re pregnant eating small regular meals is important for stabilising your blood sugar,’ says Mervin. ‘Avoid going too long without food – not longer than four to five hours between meals if you can help it.’
- Avoid fad diets: ‘Even if you are classed as obese we don’t recommend drastic dieting involving fasting or cutting out whole food groups during pregnancy,’ advises Mervi. ‘We recommend a healthy balanced diet and not eating more calories than normal – it’s important not to overdo it. It’s equally important they eat enough and don’t diet and lose weight.’ ‘Being overweight can make it more likely you’ll have a higher risk of developing complications such as pre-eclampsia (a type of high blood pressure that develops in pregnancy), blood clots and gestational diabetes. Both these conditions can mean your baby will be delivered early and have a low birth weight,’ she says.
- Don’t drink alcohol: The DoH advises avoiding alcohol completely in the first three months of pregnancy because of increased risk of miscarriage. If women drink they should only have 1-2 units once or twice a week, avoiding binge drinking.
- Cut down on caffeine: The DoH advises up to two cups of instant coffee or 200mg of caffeine daily. Too much caffeine is linked to miscarriage and low birth weight.
- Increase calorie content: ‘During pregnancy we all tend to consume more food than what is required, but be sure to Introduce an additional 200 calories per day later in your pregnancy or when breastfeeding,’ says Mervin.
Exercising in pregnancy
‘How much exercise you take in pregnancy depends on your pre-pregnancy levels of fitness and what you are used to doing,’ advises Mervi.
‘We wouldn’t advocate training for a long distance run for the first time if you’ve never done it before but we encourage pregnant women to stay active. Walking helps the blood circulate, swimming is a good all-over body muscle toner and yoga techniques can help you cope in labour.’
New research published in Science and Medicine in Sports and Exercise journal has shown previously sedentary women can benefit if they start moderate exercise in pregnancy – including brisk walking, swimming etc.
Compared to women who remained sedentary, women who improved their aerobic fitness and muscular strength delivered comparable size babies with significantly fewer Caesarean sections.
Safe exercise in pregnancy
There are safety considerations to bear in mind about exercising during pregnancy.
- Pregnancy hormones relax the ligaments: This makes you prone to sprains and strains and your centre of gravity may shift so you may be more likely to lose your balance and fall.
- Body temperature is higher: If you push yourself too hard in the gym or exercise class you will raise your core body temperature which is bad for the baby.
- Contact sports can be risky: Avoid sports including tennis, hockey, squash etc. where there is a risk of a blow to the abdomen. ‘If you’re hit in the stomach or fall, there is a risk the placenta could separate from the wall of your uterus,’ advises Mervi.
For more information on pregnancy visit our ‘Pregnancy and Childcare Centre’ or post any questions to one of our online experts, who will respond within a couple of days. Also try our healthy recipes of tray baked salmon and quinoa salad, which include all the ingredients you need when preparing for pregnancy.
Journal Fertility and Sterility
Spina Bifida Association
NHS:Low birth rate