Tips to Promote a Safe and Healthy Pregnancy

Photo credit: David Roseborough from Los Angeles, United States [CC BY 2.0]

Pregnancy is a life-changing experience on multiple levels; not only is your body experiencing many changes, but the world around you seems suddenly in need of quick and urgent restructuring in order to ensure that you and your newborn are in an environment which is conducive to health, growth, and happiness. Taking care of your body is essential for ensuring a smooth and healthy pregnancy. Read on for some tips and suggestions which will enable you to be at your healthiest through your pregnancy and beyond.

Lower Your Body’s Toxicity Levels

One of the first things you should consider is to remove all the harmful elements from your body, including some unhealthy habits that could harm the young life which is growing inside you. Smoking and alcohol consumption must be the first to go in a long line of unhealthy habits. This should be followed up with a visit to a qualified dietitian who will advise you on how to develop a healthy eating pattern; a healthy pregnancy is dependent on proper nutrition.

Your regular medical prescription will also need to be reviewed in the event that some of the medication you are taking is detrimental to your pregnancy. Consult with your doctor regarding reducing or completely stopping the intake of certain harmful medications. Even natural medicines can potentially harm your growing baby, so go over everything that you’re taking with your doctor.

Manage Stress and Eat Healthy Food

Expectant mothers should also pay close attention to their needs while they are expecting, and to ensure that they are getting adequate sleep and proper nutrition. Staying healthy during pregnancy is also dependent on your mental well-being, so take care to manage your stress and take breaks more often throughout the day. A happy and healthy pregnancy process will ensure that you give birth to a healthy baby. Your diet should include a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need, such as plenty of vegetables (especially dark green leafy vegetables), fruits (e.g. mixed berries, apples, cantaloupe, apricots), protein (e.g. nuts, beans, legumes, fish, poultry, lean meats), dairy (e.g. milk, cottage cheese, yogurt), and iron-rich foods like enriched grain products and leafy green vegetables.

Exercise is Very Important

Pregnant women should strive to remain physically active throughout their pregnancy, if there are no medical contraindications. Regular exercise keeps your blood flowing properly, which is beneficial for baby’s development and for your body. Up to 30 minutes of light exercise is recommended and could include anything from walking and swimming to yoga and Pilates.


After-Baby Exercise

Photo Credit: Robert Whitehead CC-BY-2.0

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology suggests that women who exercised before and during pregnancy should be able to return to their pre-pregnancy level of fitness training after about 6 weeks. The changes that occurred in a woman’s body during pregnancy will persist for as long as 6 weeks, sometimes longer. Women who have had a Cesarean section delivery may need to wait a few additional weeks to begin fitness training again, because a C-section delivery is major surgery. Every woman’s body responds differently to the dramatic physical and hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology states that physical exercise has been associated with a lower risk of postpartum depression. Your doctor can tell you when it’s safe to begin exercising again.When a new mother is ready to begin exercise again, start slowly and focus on core strength, muscle strength training and low-impact aerobic exercise for cardiovascular conditioning. 
Pelvic tilts are an excellent, low-impact exercise that helps to strengthen the muscles of the lower back and the abdominal muscles. The movement of the pelvic tilt is subtle, but effective. To perform the pelvic tilt exercise, lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and your hands at your sides palms down. Inhale and then gently, and slowly, lift your pelvis back toward your abdomen until your lower back presses against the floor. Do not allow your buttocks to lift off the floor. Hold the lift for 5 to 10 seconds. Exhale and lower your pelvis back to the beginning, relaxed position. Try to do 10 pelvic tilts each day. Increase the length of time you hold the tilt. 
Aerobic exercise gets your heart pumping and your body sweating. It is a great way to condition your heart and lungs while burning calories to lose weight. After delivery of a baby, return to aerobic exercises slowly. Don’t try to run 2 miles after having a baby, even if you did so before you were pregnant. Walking is a perfect way to get a low-impact, cardiovascular workout for your whole body. Put baby in a stroller and go for a long walk in the park every other day. Swimming and bicycling are ideal, low-impact aerobic exercises. Remember to start slowly, exercising 10 to 15 minutes at a time and gradually increase the amount of time doing aerobic exercise until you return to your pre-pregnancy condition.  
When you think you are ready to return to the gym, avoid high-impact activities or lifting heavy weights. Strength training does not have to include lifting weights. Isometric exercises using your own body weight or resistance bands can help increase your muscle strength and burn fat. For example, push-ups strengthen your abs, chest, arms and upper back muscles. Exercise balls are great to help increase your strength and improve balance. Balance ball squats can help increase leg and abdominal strength. Stand up straight with your back to the wall and an exercise ball between your lower back and the wall. Lean against the ball slightly and slowly lower your body to a sitting position by bending you knees and rolling the ball up your back. You may be able to only lower your body to a half-sitting position the first few times you do this exercise after having your baby, but soon you will be able to do a full squat. Do 10 to 15 repetitions, if you can. Increase the number of repetitions as your strength returns.
Prop the ball against a wall and position it behind your lower-mid back.  Walk the feet out a bit so that you’re leaning against the ball, feet about hip-distance apart.  Bend the knees and lower into a squat, going as low as you can (no lower than 90 degrees) and keeping the knees behind the toes.  Push through the heels to come back up and repeat for 15 reps.

Exercise While Pregnant

Photo Credit: Swangerschaft CC-BY-SA-2.0 2010

Pregnant women who exercised regularly before pregnancy can continue to exercise, if they take a few precautions. As long as you are in good health, not at risk for miscarriage and do not engage in strenuous exercise, a pregnant woman can enjoy regular physical exercise. Women who have not been physically active or engaged only in light, occasional physical activity before pregnancy should not start an exercise program more strenuous than walking. You are going to need strength and stamina to get through your pregnancy and delivery. Check with your doctor before beginning or continuing any exercise program. Women who are pregnant may benefit from light exercise in many ways. Walking and stretching exercises can help to relieve low back pain and prevent excessive weight gain. Swimming is a whole body aerobic exercise that most pregnant women can safely do throughout pregnancy to remain fit and control weight gain. Excess weight gain during pregnancy can contribute to gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and may even contribute to postpartum conditions like depression. Pregnant women who experience pregnancy-related conditions or are at risk for certain conditions should not exercise except on the advice and supervision of their doctor. Those who are at risk and should avoid exercise include women who are at risk for miscarriage or who have had a miscarriage in the past, history of premature delivery, bleeding or spotting and those with weak cervix or low placenta. Stretching exercises are especially helpful to maintain muscle tone and help to maintain flexibility. Stretching is important before other exercise, including walking, using a treadmill or swimming, to help reduce the risk of muscle strain. 

Begin a stretching exercise session with your neck and work your way to your feet. Sit in a comfortable chair or sit on the floor in a comfortable position. Place your hands on your thighs palms down and sit up straight and tall. Relax your shoulders and  your neck, and then drop your chin forward toward your chest. Rotate your whole head toward your right shoulder and then back to the middle of your chest. Continue rotating to the left shoulder and then back to your chest. Repeat this stretching exercise 5 times. 

Stretch your arms and shoulders to help relieve upper back stress and energize your whole body. Sit up straight, drop your shoulders down and back to straighten your back. Stretch your right arm forward and lean to the right stretching toward your fingertips. Return your right arm back to your side and then stretch forward with your left arm, and lean forward with your body stretching toward your left fingertips. Alternate back and forth in a swimming motion. Repeat this exercise for 10 repetitions. 
Kegel exercises during pregnancy strengthen the muscles of the abdominal floor that support the uterus, intestines and bladder. Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor and your arms relaxed at your sides. Sit up straight, tighten the muscles of your pelvic floor and then relax the muscles. To tighten the muscles in your pelvic floor, pretend that you are trying to stop the flow of urine midstream. Squeeze the muscles that you would use to stop your urine. Perform Kegel exercises anytime of the day, as often as you want, but try to do at least 10 sets of five contractions each day. Hold each muscle contraction for 5 to 8 seconds. Remember to breathe when doing Kegel exercises and do not contract your abdominal muscles while performing this exercise. 
Walking is a safe, effective form of aerobic exercise that can help a pregnant woman control her weight gain, remain physically fit and feel energized. Take extra precautions when walking while pregnant to avoid falls. Walk on smooth, flat areas such as sidewalks and walking trails. Do not walk when your path is covered in snow, ice or rain, which can make surfaces slippery and may result in a fall. Walk with a partner or a friend and avoid overexertion. A 20 to 30 minute walk every other day is generally safe for most pregnant women. 

For more information about safe exercises during pregnancy, see: