How can you give your baby the best possible start in life? While some things that affect the development of your baby are beyond your control, a healthy lifestyle provides the best conditions for your baby’s growth, and helps you feel your best too.
Nutrition and weight gain
How much weight should you gain during pregnancy? The optimal weight gain depends on many factors, including your pre-pregnancy weight and your previous nutritional status. An average-sized woman beginning her pregnancy at her ideal weight will probably gain from 25 to 35 pounds (40 to 50 pounds if she’s carrying twins).
To gain that weight, your physician or midwife will probably recommend a “balanced diet.” That means eating a variety of foods, with emphasis on vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Good nutrition is more important than a specific weight gain, so if you have any questions or have special diet needs, consulting a nutritionist is an excellent idea.
Start with Canada’s Food Guide, available from your public health department or the Health Canada website, hc-sc.gc.ca (follow the links).
Specific recommendations for pregnant women include:
• Add an extra two or three servings from any food group daily.
• Emphasize fruit and vegetables, including dark green and orange vegetables every day. Choose whole fruit more often than fruit juice.
• Include calcium-rich foods in your extra servings. Both milk and fortified soy beverage can supply the calcium and vitamin D you need.
• Eat at least two servings of fish per week. Choose fish that are low in mercury and provide omega-3 fats, such as salmon, trout, sardines, herring, mackerel, anchovies, haddock, pollock, tilapia or canned skipjack tuna.
• Take a daily prenatal supplement that includes 0.4 milligrams of folic acid, ideally from the time you discontinue birth control. Folic acid helps prevent spinal cord defects like spina bifida, which originate early in pregnancy. An increased dose of oen to four milligrams daily is advised for women at higher risk. See Daily servings required.
The benefits of physical fitness, such as increased energy and decreased stress, are especially welcome in the childbearing year. And research suggests that moderate exercise may also be beneficial for the fetus. A 1993 study by Dr. James Clapp found that women who exercised at least three days a week for at least 30 minutes each time had larger and better-functioning placentas than those who were fit before pregnancy but did not exercise while pregnant.
The Canadian Physiotherapy Association advises pregnant women to follow these exercise guidelines:
• Take time to warm up and cool down.
• Drink plenty of fluids. Take breaks for a drink as needed. Take care not to get overheated or dehydrated.
• Don’t exercise on an empty stomach. Have a light and nutritious snack about an hour before exercising.
• Wear comfortable, non-restrictive clothing, appropriate footwear and a good supportive bra.
• Avoid exercises that involve twisting or jarring motions.
• If an exercise hurts, stop doing it.
• Discuss your exercise plans with your physician or midwife.
What activities are good for pregnant women? Swimming is ideal because the water supports the extra weight and reduces muscle strain. Walking and low-impact aerobics are also good choices. Some physicians recommend avoiding activities like horseback riding and skiing because your shifting centre of gravity can make falls more likely. Scuba diving is not recommended because the effects of underwater pressure on the fetus have not been determined.
Working while pregnant
Today most expectant mothers work right through their pregnancy. But again, it’s important to listen to your body. Your situation — because of the demands of your job or difficulties with your pregnancy — may make leaving work earlier a wise decision.
If your work involves exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals, you should ask for a temporary transfer to another work area or take extra precautions. If you have questions about the safety of your work environment, call Motherisk: (416) 813-6780.
Rest is important
Many pregnant women find they crave extra rest. Your body knows what it needs — but how can you fit rest into a busy schedule? You may be able to get to bed earlier at night, take a nap after work or after supper, or “power nap” during your lunch break. Remember, this isn’t laziness on your part: Even if there’s not much visible evidence yet, your body is working hard to create this new baby!
Smoking You’ll never have a better reason to quit. Recent research from McMaster University in Hamilton has shown that exposure to even moderate amounts of nicotine in utero makes babies more vulnerable to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Research has also shown that smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of underweight babies, placental insufficiency, miscarriage and premature birth. Ask your public health department about programs to help you quit or cut back.
Alcohol Frequent or binge drinking can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, a serious condition involving developmental delays, physical abnormalities and long-term behaviour problems. Because it is not known how little alcohol might cause more subtle problems, it’s best to avoid alcohol entirely, especially in the first trimester.
Drugs Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before using any drug, herb or even a common over-the-counter remedy to make sure it is safe during pregnancy. There are many legal and illegal drugs that can harm your baby’s development. Contact Motherisk if you have any concerns: (416) 813-6780.
If you have any pregnancy complication — for example, hypertension or a history of premature labour — do not exercise without your doctor’s OK. In addition, if you experience shortness of breath, bleeding or fluid from the vagina, abdominal pain or dizziness and nausea, stop exercising and contact a physician.
Daily servings required
Vegetables and Fruit
Add 2 or 3 servings from any food group daily for pregnancy
Milk and Alternatives
Meat and Alternatives
Oils and fats
2-3 tbsp/day vegetable oil