Before we begin, can we just take this time to say CONGRATULATIONS! You're pregnant! Now let's talk about what you can do to give you and your baby the best chance possible at a healthy pregnancy. You will need to follow your doctor or midwife's instructions first and foremost; they are the professionals! Every woman and pregnancy is different, so not all of these tips may suit you. But let's jump in!
We're told our entire lives that one of the keys to a happy and healthy body is by eating nutritious foods. Well, surprise! It's no different when you're pregnant - in fact, it's more important! Gone are the days of "eating for two" (damn)! In the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, you can continue to eat the same number of calories that you have been, but just make sure the food you consume is full of important nutrients. It's also essential to familiarise yourself with the most common foods to avoid during pregnancy, as some can harbour nasty bacteria and pathogens that are incredibly dangerous to you and your little one at this time:
- Deli-style foods, e.g. coleslaw, sliced meats (unless cooked to over 70°C), salads etc. These chilled ready-to-eat foods can sometimes make an ideal breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
- Soft and semi-pasteurised cheeses, e.g. brie, camembert, blue cheese, mozzarella, ricotta. Avoid raw milk products as well - cream and custard sadly come under this category. Unpasteurised milk products are risky when it comes to Listeria, which can cause serious complications, including miscarriage.
- Raw and processed meats, e.g. smoked chicken, smoked and raw seafood/shellfish. Store-bought sushi is also off the menu.
- Raw eggs - these like to hide in certain smoothies, mayonnaise and some desserts so always check the ingredients!
- Alcohol - seems fairly intuitive, right? Well, we're not just talking about wine and beer! Some forms of fermented drinks like kombucha can contain alcohol, so read their labels carefully!
What can you eat?!
Don't panic! There are plenty of foods that you can eat that won't make you feel like you're missing out. It's just a matter of checking which ones are right for you and your dietary requirements, as well as chatting to your doctor about potential supplements that you can take to help bump up the levels of various minerals and vitamins you may be lacking.
- Foods high in folic acid are incredibly important, especially during early pregnancy, since they help prevent major congenital disabilities like spina bifida and help to form your baby's neural tube. Green, leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, avocado and bok choy are great choices.
- Foods rich in iodine support your baby's brain development, so switch out your regular seasoning salt for iodised salt, eat cooked fish and snack on bread containing healthy iodine levels (which is the majority of them, except for unleavened and organic kinds).
- Milk and dairy products are great sources of calcium and safe as long as they are from pasteurised milk products, e.g. greek yoghurt, hard cheeses (parmesan, cheddar, cream cheese etc.)
- Lean meats are an excellent source of iron, choline and other B vitamins essential to a healthy pregnancy. Iron is especially important in pregnancy – in fact, your iron requirements double at this time in order to make more blood to supply oxygen to your growing baby.
For a more comprehensive list of foods to avoid and consume, check out MPI's list of safe foods during pregnancy. This is a New Zealand-based website but should provide some insight for anyone wanting more information.
Sleep is fundamental in helping your body support and grow your baby. Particularly in the first trimester, you may find you are more tired than usual and need a longer sleep or a few naps during the day. You'll also likely find it trickier to find a comfortable sleeping position as your baby gets bigger. Sleeping on your side with your legs bent takes some of the pressure off your back and gives your heart an easier time since your uterus isn't pressing down on as many major blood vessels. Some doctors advise lying on the left-hand side to avoid placing extra pressure on a large artery that runs up your right-hand side. Putting pillows between your legs, under your belly or behind your back can provide a little extra comfort during those last few months. You might start finding it more difficult to sleep through the night, whether it's from the need to pee every five minutes (we're exaggerating...sort of), general discomfort, heartburn, etc. If this is the case, then training your body with short naps during the day can help to combat your growing exhaustion. It'll also come in handy when your wee one arrives, and you have to get in a quick nap while they're sleeping!
We can't stress this enough, if you feel overwhelmed, anxious, angry, anything at all that is getting in the way of your daily life, it is OKAY to feel that way, and it is OKAY to ask for help. You are going through one of the most significant changes and challenges of your life! You might have heard about postnatal depression, but did you know antenatal depression exists as well? There isn't too much difference between the two besides the time when they can occur, so recognising their symptoms and knowing where you can go to ask for help is essential. Our blog on Postnatal Depression provides a midwife's insight into combatting this issue that so many mothers (and fathers) go through. Plunket's website is another useful resource. Taking care of your mental health is the pinnacle of self-care before, during and after pregnancy. The way to nourish it is by utilising all of the methods above; frequent check-ins with your doctor or midwife, a healthy diet, regular exercise and plenty of sleep. Post-pregnancy, if that means letting someone watch bubs for an hour (or more), then that's fine! We can't take care of our babies if we aren't taking care of ourselves.
The good (or bad) news is that being pregnant doesn't necessarily mean you have to give up your gym routine for the couch, although we're not saying you shouldn't rest when you need to! Keeping up with regular exercise is one way to maintain your health during pregnancy and help with an easier birth (we said easi-er, not easy). It also aids in a speedier recovery postnatally. Regardless of whether you're a 24/7 gym junkie or a squat-for-the-remote kind of person, have a chat with your doctor regarding your workout routine. You may find you're able to continue your current fitness schedule as it is or cut it back a bit. Everyone is different, so do what works for you. Lower-impact exercises help lessen the strain on your body which is imperative for a healthy pregnancy. Activities like pregnancy yoga, swimming or aqua-jogging are excellent forms of low-impact exercise because they take the pressure off your feet and joints while still providing a good cardio workout. If you're up for it, try to get in 30 minutes of low to moderate-intensity exercise at least five days a week. You will need to hydrate before, during and after working out and of course, if you feel any discomfort, stop immediately. Don't put too much pressure on yourself either, be kind! Your body is doing something amazing and is putting a massive amount of energy into growing another person - that's a workout in itself, Mama!