Even with all the joy and anticipation pregnancy can bring, it is not uncommon for a mother-to-be to have some questions and concerns -- not only about changes to expect throughout her pregnancy, but also concerns regarding the care of her body to ensure the health of her unborn child.
Listed below, you will find some additional information that covers not only how to care for your body while you are pregnant, but also some of the changes your body will go through in preparation of labor and delivery, for which we have provided a brief overview.
Many hormone levels are affected in the body during pregnancy, with several hormones playing major roles during pregnancy, such as:
Weight gain during pregnancy varies from woman to woman and depends on body type. Each woman should talk with her care provider about the appropriate amount of weight gain, as well as diet and exercise.
2009 Recommendations for Pregnancy Weight Gain by BMI (Body Mass Index) from the Institute of Medicine
|Pre-pregnancy BMI||BMI||Total Gain Range||Rate of Gain in 2nd and 3rd Trimester|
|Underweight||less than 18.5||28-40 lbs||1 (1-1.3) lbs/week|
|Normal Weight||18.5-24.9||25-35 lbs||1 (0.8-1) lbs/week|
|Overweight||25.0-29.9||15-25 lbs||0.6 (0.5-0.7) lbs/week|
|Obese||greater than 30.0||11-20 lbs||0.5 (0.4-0.6) lbs/week|
Total weight gain at the end of pregnancy is, in most instances, approximated as follows, according to the March of Dimes:
|Maternal energy stores (fat, protein, and other nutrients)||7 pounds|
|Fluid volume||4 pounds|
|Breast enlargement||2 pounds|
|Amniotic fluid||2 pounds|
According to the FDA, about 300 extra calories are needed daily to maintain a healthy pregnancy. These calories should come from a balanced diet of protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with sweets and fats kept to a minimum. A healthy, well-balanced diet during pregnancy can also help to minimize some pregnancy symptoms such as nausea and constipation.
The American Dietetic Association recommends the following key components of a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy: appropriate weight gain, consumption of a variety of foods in accordance with the new USDA guidelines at ChooseMyPlate.gov, and appropriate and timely vitamin and mineral supplementation.
Fluid intake is also an important part of healthy pregnancy nutrition. Women can take in enough fluids by drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water each day, in addition to the fluids in juices and soups. An expectant mother should talk with her healthcare provider or midwife about restricting her intake of caffeine and artificial sweeteners. All alcohol should be avoided in pregnancy.
The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid each day. Folic acid is a nutrient found in foods such as:
Folic acid supplementation can help reduce the risk for neural tube defects - a type of birth defect affecting the brain and spinal cord. The most common neural tube defect is spina bifida, in which the vertebrae do not fuse together properly, causing the spinal cord to be exposed. This can lead to varying degrees of paralysis, incontinence, and intellectual disability.
Folic acid is most beneficial during the first 28 days after conception, when most neural tube defects form. Unfortunately, many women do not realize they are pregnant before 28 days. Therefore, folic acid intake should begin prior to conception and continue through pregnancy. Your healthcare provider or midwife will recommend the appropriate amount of folic acid to meet your individual needs.
Most healthcare providers or midwives will prescribe a prenatal supplement before conception, or shortly afterward, to ensure all of the woman's nutritional needs are met. However, a prenatal supplement does not replace a healthy diet.
Regular exercise during pregnancy, with the approval of your physician or midwife, can often help to minimize the daily physical discomforts and help with the recovery after the baby is born. There is evidence that physical activity may be especially beneficial for women with gestational diabetes. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women who exercised and were physically fit before pregnancy can safely continue exercising throughout the pregnancy. Women who were inactive before pregnancy or who have medical or pregnancy complications should consult with their physician or midwife before beginning any exercise during pregnancy.
All women should be evaluated by their physician or midwife before beginning or continuing an exercise program while pregnant.
Exercise for pregnant women may not be safe if they have any of the following conditions:
Types of exercise to avoid during pregnancy:
Many women work during pregnancy without any complications. Being able to work safely, in some cases, until the day of delivery depends on the type of work performed and the mother-to-be's medical condition. However, the workplace can pose certain risks, depending upon the occupation. Knowing what these risks are and minimizing them will help increase the likelihood of a healthy pregnancy. Be sure to discuss the following job risks with your healthcare provider at your first prenatal visit:
Taking proper precautions to avoid these risks on the job can help keep you and your baby healthy throughout the pregnancy.
The American Medical Association recommends the following for working pregnant women:
Proper lifting techniques during pregnancy
Weight gain during pregnancy adds strain to the back. Proper lifting can help reduce the strain and prevent injury. When lifting, a pregnant woman should keep in mind the following recommendations:
Computer use in pregnancy
Today, many occupations involve the use of a computer. Computers have also been associated with many complaints, such as neck, wrist, hand, shoulder, and back pain from prolonged sitting in the same position and eyestrain. To alleviate these symptoms, the following may help:
In most cases, sex during pregnancy is safe. In fact, with your healthcare provider's approval, sexual relations can continue until delivery.
However, fluctuating hormone levels and certain pregnancy symptoms such as nausea and tiredness can temporarily reduce a pregnant woman's libido (sex drive). In addition, visible changes in the woman's body may affect sexual desire. Always consult your healthcare provider concerning any questions you may have about sex during pregnancy.
Sexual intercourse may have to be avoided if the following symptoms occur:
As the fetus grows within the uterus, lying on your back is not recommended due to pressure on the inferior vena cava, a major vein that returns blood from the lower body to the heart. In addition, the increased pressure on the back and intestines can cause discomfort. Sleeping on the stomach during pregnancy also should be avoided, because of pressure on the fetus.
The best sleeping position for a pregnant woman is on her side, especially the left side, because it allows for maximum blood flow to the fetus and improves kidney function in the mother. Improved kidney flow helps to reduce any swelling. Placing a pillow between the knees can help a pregnant woman sleep more comfortably on her side.