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Eat this. Don't eat that. Do this. Don't do that. Pregnant women are bombarded with do's and don'ts. Here is help to keep it all straight.
Eating healthy foods is more important now than ever! You need more protein, iron, calcium, and folic acid than you did before pregnancy. You also need more calories. But "eating for two" doesn't mean eating twice as much. Rather, it means that the foods you eat are the main source of nutrients for your baby. Sensible, balanced meals combined with regular physical fitness is still the best recipe for good health during your pregnancy.
The amount of weight you should gain during pregnancy depends on your body mass index (BMI) before you became pregnant. The Institute of Medicine provides these guidelines:
Check with your doctor to find out how much weight gain during pregnancy is healthy for you.
You should gain weight gradually during your pregnancy, with most of the weight gained in the last trimester. Generally, doctors suggest women gain weight at the following rate:
Recent research shows that women who gain more than the recommended amount during pregnancy and who fail to lose this weight within six months after giving birth are at much higher risk of being obese nearly 10 years later. Findings from another large study suggest that gaining more weight than the recommended amount during pregnancy may raise your child's odds of being overweight in the future. If you find that you are gaining weight too quickly, try to cut back on foods with added sugars and solid fats. If you are not gaining enough weight, you can eat a little more from each food group.
Your calorie needs will depend on your weight gain goals. Most women need 300 calories a day more during at least the last six months of pregnancy than they do pre-pregnancy. Keep in mind that not all calories are equal. Your baby needs healthy foods that are packed with nutrients — not "empty calories" such as those found in soft drinks, candies, and desserts.
Although you want to be careful not to eat more than you need for a healthy pregnancy, make sure not to restrict your diet during pregnancy either. If you don't get the calories you need, your baby might not get the right amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Low-calorie diets can break down a pregnant woman's stored fat. This can cause your body to make substances called ketones. Ketones can be found in the mother's blood and urine and are a sign of starvation. Constant production of ketones can result in a child with mental deficiencies.
A pregnant woman needs more of many important vitamins, minerals, and nutrients than she did before pregnancy. Making healthy food choices every day will help you give your baby what he or she needs to develop. The MyPyramid for pregnant and breastfeeding women can show you what to eat as well as how much you need to eat from each food group based on your pre-pregnancy BMI and activity level. Use your personal MyPyramid plan to guide your daily food choices. Here are some foods to choose often:
Talk to your doctor if you have special diet needs for these reasons:
Most foods are safe for pregnant women and their babies. But you will need to use caution or avoid eating certain foods. Follow these guidelines:
Fish and shellfish can be an important part of a healthy diet. They are a great source of protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. What’s more, some researchers believe low fish intake may be linked to depression in women during and after pregnancy. Research also suggests that omega-3 fatty acids consumed by pregnant women may aid in babies’ brain and eye development.
Women who are or may become pregnant and nursing mothers need 12 ounces of fish per week to reap the health benefits. Unfortunately, some pregnant and nursing women do not eat any fish because they worry about mercury in seafood. Mercury is a metal that at high levels can harm the brain of your unborn baby — even before it is conceived. Mercury mainly gets into our bodies by eating large, predatory fish. Yet many types of seafood have little or no mercury at all. So the risk of mercury exposure depends on the amount and type of seafood you eat.
Women who are nursing, pregnant, or who may become pregnant can safely eat a variety of cooked seafood, but should steer clear of fish with high levels of mercury. Keep in mind that removing all fish from your diet will rob you of important omega-3 fatty acids. To reach 12 ounces while limiting exposure to mercury, follow these tips:
Do not eat these fish that are high in mercury:
Eat up to 12 ounces (about 2 servings) per week of cooked* fish and shellfish with little or no mercury, such as:
Foods supplemented with DHA/EPA (such as “omega-3 eggs”) and prenatal vitamins supplemented with DHA are other sources of the type of omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood.
In addition to making healthy food choices, ask your doctor about taking a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement every day to be sure you are getting enough of the nutrients your baby needs. You also can check the label on the foods you buy to see how much of a certain nutrient the product contains. Women who are pregnant need more of these nutrients than women who are not pregnant:
|Nutrient||How much pregnant women need each day|
|Folic acid||400 to 800 micrograms (mcg) (0.4 to 0.8 mg) in the early stages of pregnancy, which is why all women who are capable of pregnancy should take a daily multivitamin that contains 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid. Pregnant women should continue taking folic acid throughout pregnancy.|
|Iron||27 milligrams (mg)|
|Calcium||1,000 milligrams (mg); 1,300 mg if 18 or younger|
|Vitamin A||770 micrograms (mcg); 750 mcg if 18 or younger|
|Vitamin B12||2.6 micrograms (mcg)|
Women who are pregnant also need to be sure to get enough vitamin D. The current recommendation for all adults younger than 71 (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) is 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D each day. Talk to your doctor about how you can be sure to get enough vitamin D and other important vitamins and nutrients.
Keep in mind that taking too much of a supplement can be harmful. For example, very high levels of vitamin A can cause birth defects. For this reason, your daily prenatal vitamin should contain no more than 5,000 IU (International Units) of vitamin A. Some supplements contain much more. Only take vitamins and mineral supplements that your doctor recommends.
All of your body's systems need water. When you are pregnant, your body needs even more water to stay hydrated and support the life inside you. Water also helps prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, excessive swelling, and urinary tract or bladder infections. Not getting enough water can lead to premature or early labor.
Your body gets the water it needs through the fluids you drink and the foods you eat. How much fluid you need to drink each day depends on many factors, such as your activity level, the weather, and your size. Your body needs more fluids when it is hot and when you are physically active. It also needs more water if you have a fever or if you are vomiting or have diarrhea.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that pregnant women drink about 10 cups of fluids daily. Water, juices, coffee, tea, and soft drinks all count toward your fluid needs. But keep in mind that some beverages are high in sugar and "empty" calories. A good way to tell if your fluid intake is okay is if your urine is pale yellow or colorless and you rarely feel thirsty. Thirst is a sign that your body is on its way to dehydration. Don't wait until you feel thirsty to drink.
There is no known safe amount of alcohol a woman can drink while pregnant. When you are pregnant and you drink beer, wine, hard liquor, or other alcoholic beverages, alcohol gets into your blood. The alcohol in your blood gets into your baby's body through the umbilical cord. Alcohol can slow down the baby's growth, affect the baby's brain, and cause birth defects.
Find out more about the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy in our section on Substance abuse.
Moderate amounts of caffeine appear to be safe during pregnancy. Moderate means less than 200 mg of caffeine per day, which is the amount in about 12 ounces of coffee. Most caffeinated teas and soft drinks have much less caffeine. Some studies have shown a link between higher amounts of caffeine and miscarriage and preterm birth. But there is no solid proof that caffeine causes these problems. The effects of too much caffeine are unclear. Ask your doctor whether drinking a limited amount of caffeine is okay for you.
Many women have strong desires for specific foods during pregnancy. The desire for "pickles and ice cream" and other cravings might be caused by changes in nutritional needs during pregnancy. The fetus needs nourishment. And a woman's body absorbs and processes nutrients differently while pregnant. These changes help ensure normal development of the baby and fill the demands of breastfeeding once the baby is born.
Some women crave nonfood items such as clay, ice, laundry starch, or cornstarch. A desire to eat nonfood items is called pica (PYE-KUH). Eating nonfood items can be harmful to your pregnancy. Talk to your doctor if you have these urges.
Fitness goes hand in hand with eating right to maintain your physical health and well-being during pregnancy. Pregnant or not, physical fitness helps keep the heart, bones, and mind healthy. Healthy pregnant women should get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week. It's best to spread your workouts throughout the week. If you regularly engage in vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or high amounts of activity, you can keep up your activity level as long as your health doesn't change and you talk to your doctor about your activity level throughout your pregnancy.
Special benefits of physical activity during pregnancy:
For most healthy moms-to-be who do not have any pregnancy-related problems, exercise is a safe and valuable habit. Even so, talk to your doctor or midwife before exercising during pregnancy. She or he will be able to suggest a fitness plan that is safe for you. Getting a doctor's advice before starting a fitness routine is important for both inactive women and women who exercised before pregnancy.
If you have one of these conditions, your doctor will advise you not to exercise:
Low-impact activities at a moderate level of effort are comfortable and enjoyable for many pregnant women. Walking, swimming, dancing, cycling, and low-impact aerobics are some examples. These sports also are easy to take up, even if you are new to physical fitness.
Some higher intensity sports are safe for some pregnant women who were already doing them before becoming pregnant. If you jog, play racquet sports, or lift weights, you may continue with your doctor's okay.
Keep these points in mind when choosing a fitness plan:
Follow these tips for safe and healthy fitness:
Stop exercising and call your doctor as soon as possible if you have any of the following:
Your pelvic floor muscles support the rectum, vagina, and urethra in the pelvis. Toning these muscles with Kegel exercises will help you push during delivery and recover from birth. It also will help control bladder leakage and lower your chance of getting hemorrhoids.
Pelvic muscles are the same ones used to stop the flow of urine. Still, it can be hard to find the right muscles to squeeze. You can be sure you are exercising the right muscles if when you squeeze them you stop urinating. Or you can put a finger into the vagina and squeeze. If you feel pressure around the finger, you've found the pelvic floor muscles. Try not to tighten your stomach, legs, or other muscles.
Before you become pregnant, it is best to have dental checkups routinely to keep your teeth and gums healthy. If you are pregnant and have not had regular checkups, consider the following:
After you give birth, maintain good oral hygiene to protect your baby's oral health. Bacteria that cause cavities can transfer from you to your child by:
You also should find a dentist for your child by age 1.
You and your baby are connected. The medicines you use, including over-the-counter, herbal, and prescription drugs or supplements, might get into your baby's body, too. Many medicines and herbs are known to cause problems during pregnancy, including birth defects. For some medicines, we don't know that much about how they might affect pregnancy or the developing fetus. This is because medicines are rarely tested on pregnant women for fear of harming the fetus.
Mothers-to-be might wonder if it's safe to use medicines during pregnancy. There is no clear-cut answer to this question. Your doctor can help you make the choice whether to use a medicine. Labels on prescription and over-the-counter drugs have information to help you and your doctor make this choice. In the future, a new prescription drug label will make it easier for women and their doctors to weigh the benefits and risks of using prescription medicines during pregnancy.
When deciding whether to use a medicine in pregnancy, you and your doctor need to talk about the medicine's benefits and the risks.
There may be times during pregnancy when using medicine is a choice. For example, if you get a cold, you may decide to "live with" your stuffy nose instead of using the "stuffy nose" medicine you use when you are not pregnant.
Other times during pregnancy, using medicine is not a choice — it is needed. For example, you might need to use medicine to control an existing health problem like asthma, diabetes, depression, or seizures. Or, you might need a medicine for a few days, such as an antibiotic to treat a bladder infection or strep throat. Also, some women have a pregnancy problem that needs medicine treatment. These problems include severe nausea and vomiting, earlier pregnancy losses, or preterm labor.
You might think herbs are safe because they are "natural." But, except for some vitamins, little is known about using herbal or dietary supplements while pregnant. Some herbal remedy labels claim they will help with pregnancy. But, most often there are no good studies to show if these claims are true or if the herb can cause harm to you or your baby. Also, some herbs that are safe when used in small amounts as food might be harmful when used in large amounts as medicines. So, talk with your doctor before using any herbal or dietary supplement or natural product. These products may contain things that could harm you or your growing baby.
Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, sex is safe. You may find that your interest in sex changes during pregnancy. Talk to your partner about other positions if the way you usually have sex is awkward or no longer feels good. Call your doctor if sex causes:
Everyday life doesn't stop once you are pregnant. Most healthy pregnant women are able to continue with their usual routine and activity level. That means going to work, running errands, and for some, traveling away from home. To take care of yourself and help keep your baby safe, consider these points before taking a long trip or traveling far from home:
The environment is everything around us wherever we are — at home, at work, or outdoors. Although you don't need to worry about every little thing you breathe in or eat, it's smart to avoid exposure to substances that might put your pregnancy or unborn baby's health at risk.
During pregnancy, avoid exposure to:
Keep in mind: We don't know how much exposure can lead to problems, such as miscarriage or birth defects. That is why it's best to avoid or limit your exposure as much as possible. Here are some simple, day-to-day precautions you can take:
If you are exposed to chemicals in the workplace, talk to your doctor and your employer about what you can do to lower your exposure. Certain industries, such as dry cleaning, manufacturing, printing, and agriculture, involve use of toxins that could be harmful. If you are concerned about the safety of your drinking water, call your health department or water supplier to ask about the quality of your tap water or how to have your water tested. Or, call the Environmental Protection Agency's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791. Don't assume that bottled water is better or safer. Usually, bottle water offers no health benefits over tap water.
Smoking cigarettes is very harmful to your health and could also affect the health of your baby. Not only does smoking cause cancer and heart disease in people who smoke, smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of low birth weight. low birth weight babies are at higher risk of health problems shortly after birth. Also, some studies have linked low birth weight with a higher risk of health problems later in life, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely than other women to have a miscarriage and to have a baby born with cleft lip or palate, types of birth defects. Also, mothers who smoke during or after pregnancy put their babies at greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Mothers who smoke have many reasons to quit smoking. Take care of your health and your unborn baby's health: Ask your doctor about ways to help you quit during pregnancy. Intensive counseling has been shown to increase a pregnant woman’s chances of quitting success. We don’t know whether the drugs used to help people quit are safe to use during pregnancy. But we do know that continuing to smoke during pregnancy threatens your and your baby’s health. Quitting smoking is hard, but you can do it with help!
Using alcohol and illegal drugs during pregnancy threatens the health of your unborn baby. So does using legal drugs in an inappropriate way. When you use alcohol or drugs, the chemicals you ingest or breathe into your lungs cross the placenta and enter your baby. This puts your baby at risk for such problems as stillbirth, low birth weight, birth defects, behavioral problems, and developmental delays.
When you drink alcohol, so does your baby. Pregnant women should not drink alcohol to eliminate the chance of giving birth to a baby with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). FASD involves a range of harmful effects that can occur when a fetus is exposed to alcohol. The effects can be mild to severe. Children born with a severe form of FASD can have abnormal facial features, severe learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and other problems.
You might think a drink now and then won't hurt your baby. But we don't know how much alcohol it takes to cause harm. We do know that the risk of FASD, and the likely severity, goes up with the amount of alcohol consumed during pregnancy. Also, damage from alcohol can occur in the earliest stages of pregnancy — often before a woman knows she is pregnant. For this reason, women who may become pregnant also should not drink.
Many women who use illegal drugs also use tobacco and alcohol. So, it's not always easy to tell the effects of one drug from that of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. We do know that using illegal drugs during pregnancy is very dangerous. Babies born to women who use drugs such as cocaine, heroine, and methamphetamine are likely to be born addicted and must go through withdrawal. Mothers who inject drugs are at higher risk of getting HIV, which can be passed to an unborn baby. Some studies suggest that the effects of drug use during pregnancy might not be seen until later in childhood.
If you drink alcohol or use drugs and cannot quit, talk to your doctor right away. Treatment programs can help pregnant women with addiction and abuse. To find help near you, go to the Substance abuse treatment facility locator. You can quit using and give your baby a good start to life.
It's hard to be excited about the new life growing inside of you if you're afraid of your partner. Abuse from a partner can begin or increase during pregnancy and can harm you and your unborn baby. Women who are abused often don't get the prenatal care their babies need. Abuse from a partner also can lead to preterm birth and low birth weight babies, stillbirth and newborn death, and homicide. If you are abused, you might turn to alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to help you cope. This can be even more harmful to you and your baby.
You may think that a new baby will change your situation for the better. But the cycle of abuse is complex, and a baby introduces new stress to people and relationships. Now is a good time to think about your safety and the safety and wellbeing of your baby. About 50 percent of men who abuse their wives also abuse their children. Think about the home environment you want for your baby. Studies show that children who witness or experience violence at home may have long-term physical, emotional, and social problems. They are also more likely to experience or commit violence themselves in the future.
Prenatal exams offer a good chance to reach out for help. It's possible to take control and leave an abusive partner. But for your and your baby's safety, talk to your doctor first. Let motherhood prompt you to take action now.
When you are pregnant, do not hesitate to call your doctor or midwife if something is bothering or worrying you. Sometimes physical changes can be signs of a problem.
Call your doctor or midwife as soon as you can if you:
Content last updated: September 27, 2010.
Resources last updated: September 27, 2010.