From the moment a mom becomes pregnant, she knows that a little life depends on her. For nine months, she has to care for the baby without ever actually seeing him, and that can feel like a big responsibility.
It's not as easy as knowing to change a diaper when the baby cries and feeding him every few hours — not that that is easy, but at least mom can follow the cues that the baby gives her. Instead, when a mom is pregnant, she has to rely on her own health and her medical provider, and she might not feel so confident all the time. So we have some pointers that might help a woman who wants to do all that she can so that her baby will arrive healthy.
There are some things that mom-to-be needs to do, such as take prenatal vitamins, that can make a big difference in the baby's health. And there are some things she should avoid, like partying and everything that goes with it, that can do some damage. We know that most moms would do anything to make sure that the baby is healthy, so this advice will serve her well through nine months.
Here are 15 things moms should do to make the baby healthier (and five to avoid).
20 Take Prenatal Vitamins
Nutrition is everything when it comes to providing the things that your baby needs to be healthy. And even if you are very careful to eat a balanced diet, most people do not take in the recommended amount of each vitamin every day. That's where prenatal vitamins can come in and make a huge difference in terms of the health of the baby.
Taking vitamins is so essential in the earliest stage of pregnancy that doctors recommend that women start taking them when they start trying to get pregnant. For example, the baby's neural tube, which develops into the spinal column, forms around the time that a woman is expecting her first missed period. And studies have shown that taking folic acid is the No. 1 way to avoid a defect in that very important stage of the baby's formation. Neural tube defects can be fatal, so the vitamins are a big way to make the baby healthier from the beginning.
19 Don't Skip Prenatal Appointments
Doctor's appointments are a big part of a pregnant woman's life. Most women end up in the doctor's office about a dozen times before they give birth, and that can seem like too much for a busy mom-to-be. But good prenatal care is one of the biggest factors in determining if a baby will be born healthy, and it's a big advantage that women in the United States have over much of the rest of the world.
We understand that you are busy, but what if the day that you miss your doctor's appointment was the time when the doctor could have picked up on high blood pressure or found a problem in your urine. Most of the time, everything is fine, but the appointments give the doctor the ability to catch something before it becomes a problem and give you advice along the way. Those appointments are very important in keeping mom and baby healthy throughout the pregnancy.
18 Eat As Healthy As You Can
There are a lot of rules for a diet when a woman is pregnant, and they are all for the benefit of the baby. While the doctor wants to make sure that the mom avoids anything that could make the mother (and therefore, the baby) sick, the No. 1 rule is to eat a balanced, healthy diet.
We understand that moms-to-be go through cravings during pregnancy, but it's not really the time to only eat sweets and fast food. Vegetables are full of nutrients that go from the mom to the baby, and protein helps them both grow strong. It's OK to indulge now and then, but eating a healthy diet is going to go a long way to making the baby healthier, and the mom too.
17 Regular Exercise, If Allowed
One of the best ways to maintain your health in general is to move your body, and that is just as true when you are pregnant. With some exemptions, one of the best things that a woman can do during pregnancy is to exercise regularly so that her heart is healthy and her muscles are strong for all of the things that her body is going through.
For women who are already into exercise, most of the time you can continue to do some serious weight-lifting. But for women who haven't been exercising, adding on a daily walk or swim can make a woman feel better during her pregnancy and have a better time during the delivery. The baby gets more oxygen during exercise, and his own lungs can feel the benefit. It's great for mom and for baby, and it might help the mom start a new lifestyle that helps them both be healthier in the future.
16 Drink Lots Of Water
A woman doesn't have to eat for two when she is pregnant, but she does need to drink for two, keeping in mind that the second one is pretty tiny. Hydrating can do a lot for the mom's health and that can be incredibly beneficial to the baby.
According to Today's Parent, the idea of needing eight glasses off water per day is a bit of myth, although a woman is more limited on the kinds of drinks she can have when pregnant because she needs to avoid caffeine. Drinking water is also good at keeping a woman from getting as bloated at the end of the pregnancy. That might seem surprising, but it can make a big difference. And if the mom can keep down her water retention, the baby gets the benefit as well. It's another good habit that benefits the mom and the baby and could continue to help them both throughout their lives.
15 Prenatal Testing
Some women go into pregnancy knowing that there is a risk that there could be problem with the baby. In those cases, such as when there is a known predisposition to a genetic condition, prenatal testing can do a lot to help take care of the baby.
It's possible that the prenatal testing can discover a health complication, and some women might choose to not continue with the pregnancy. For those who do continue, it's possible for the doctors to be able to do things that can help. For example, babies with spina bifida can have surgery in utero, and doctors can make plans for a safer delivery if they know of a condition ahead of time. The testing can allow doctors and moms to make a plan to keep the baby as healthy as possible.
14 Talk To The Doctor About Meds
Many women think that they can't take any medication while they are pregnant, but that can actually be very bad for their health. Instead of just stopping all of their prescriptions cold turkey, they need to talk to their obstetrician right away. Moms might be willing to sacrifice their health for their babies, but it is actually doing the baby a disservice because the baby is only as healthy as the mom.
This is true for moms who have conditions like seizures and high blood pressure and organ transplantation as well as those who have depression or anxiety. The doctor might want to try a different medication, but he knows that if the mom's health fails, so does the baby. That's why you are in for a long discussion about risk versus reward before you figure out the best situation for your family.
13 Take Naps When You Need Them
Pregnancy can be exhausting. It seems like there is only so much energy to go around, so it helps mom and baby be healthier if the mom rests up when she needs to. We know that it can be difficult to get a good night's rest with all of the trips to the bathroom and heartburn, so sometimes a nap during the day is the only solution that can help.
Self care can be pretty difficult when you are a parent, but when your body is exhausted, it's nature's way of saying that you and the baby need some rest. Don't push yourself when you don't have to, as sleep can be even harder to come by when after the baby arrives.
12 Follow Doctor's Orders In High Risk Cases
High risk problems can be very scary. That's because there is a known risk to the baby, even if the high risk category happens because of mom. The mom has to be really careful to follow doctor's orders because it isn't just her health that is at risk.
For example, a mom with gestational diabetes might think that she can eat sugar and only risk her own health, but it could lead to a baby who is large and at risk for birth complications, including stillbirth. Women who are told to go on bed rest also have to be careful so they can avoid a premature delivery. High risk means the baby's health is in danger too, so it's definitely time to listen to doctor's orders.
11 Go To The Dentist
When a woman is pregnant, she has to take care of her entire body — and that includes her teeth. She might not think that dental hygiene is a big deal, but many women can suffer from tooth decay during pregnancy, and that means that they might need dental work if they aren't careful.
Moms need to try to take care of their teeth so they can avoid procedures, and they might have to put off work if something happens early in the pregnancy or late in it. That's because it can be iffy on the impact on the baby in the first trimester, and it could cause premature labor in the third trimester. It doesn't seem like it would relate, but having good dental health for the mom can translate into better health for the baby.
10 Get A Flu Shot
Having the flu is never fun — but having the flu while pregnant is especially dangerous. Not only are women going to suffer more if they get the flu while they are pregnant, but the illness can cause severe complications for the baby, including an increased risk of miscarriage or fetal death, low birth weight and birth defects.
While some people still get sick if they have the flu shot, it's worth it to try to prevent the illness while pregnant. On top of that, the mother's flu shot can pass through the placenta and breastmilk to give the baby some antibodies and may protect the baby from getting sick before he is old enough to get his own vaccine at six months old. No one likes shots, but moms should go through it to make it so that their baby is healthier.
9 Green Cleaning Products
A child's development is based on genetics, but there are also environmental factors that go into whether the baby develops any deformities or complications. While the research is still out on many of the things that are in on our environment and how they impact an unborn baby, we recommend going green as much as you can to avoid any issues, especially during the first trimester.
Many women go through a pretty intense nesting phase while they are pregnant, and a number of cleaning products are very harsh and possibly harmful. They can impair the mom's health, but the real danger might be to the tiny, growing infant. It's just better for the baby's health to use something more natural that won't cause the stress that you expect.
8 Call The Doctor When Something Is Wrong
We get how stressful it is to go through pregnancy. At times, it can feel like every sensation is new and women can fear that something is wrong almost all of the time. We know that many women don't want to bother the doctor, but we also firmly believe in mother's intuition. When a women thinks something is wrong, it's best for her baby to get medical advice as soon as possible.
Issues like pre-eclampsia and premature labor need immediate attention, even if the mom isn't sure that she needs to rush to the hospital. A baby who is under a doctor's care right away is more likely to survive and thrive in those circumstances, so don't apologize for putting your baby's health first.
7 Prepare For Breastfeeding
We don't want to get into a big debate on breastfeeding versus formula feeding, but studies do show that breastfeeding can have tremendous health benefits for the baby, so one major way that a woman can improve her baby's health is to prepare to try to nurse.
The biggest benefits of nursing can come in the first few days after birth, when the mother is making a thick, golden liquid called colostrum. While some moms can continue to nurse for more than a year afterward, there are a lot of immunity properties that the baby can benefit from in just a few days. Pumped milk can also provide that, if the baby has an issue with latching, so that might be an option for some women. While a woman shouldn't feel bad if she chooses not to breastfeed for a year, she should know that there are health benefits to going for it for at least a little while.
6 Try Not To Stress
After giving women all the rules about pregnancy and listing all the things that can go wrong, doctors then tell women they shouldn't stress. Unfortunately, it's hard not to get anxious, but it's also bad for the baby's health to stress out.
Stress can cause a number of complications, including messing with pregnancy hormones or impacting a woman's immune system so that she can get sick. Stress can also cause premature labor, which can mean that the baby doesn't get off to the healthiest start. There are studies that show that stress can cause some major problems for pregnant women, but that is usually some catastrophic situations such as the death of a family member. Women who are worried about it should talk to their doctor and do what they can to reduce their stress level.
5 Absolutely no recreational substances
One of the most detrimental things that you can do, as far as your baby's health, is to do drugs while pregnant. Illicit substances — including marijuana — have been proven to have harmful effects on the baby's development and can cause some of the most severe birth defects or even death.
Now, we want to point out that it can be very dangerous for a woman to try to detox during pregnancy, and some doctors recommend waiting until after the birth and going through a regulated program while pregnant. It's best to talk to the doctor immediately — or get clean before you get pregnant — so you can get involved in a program and the doctor can provide specialized care. Without treatment, it could be devastating to the baby's health.
4 No party beverages either
The recommendations on alcohol during pregnancy seem to be in flux these days, but most doctors agree that there is a major risk of problems for the baby if you drink alcohol in excess. There is a condition known as fetal alcohol syndrome that includes physical deformities, neurological issues and behavioral and developmental problems for babies whose moms consume too much alcohol while pregnant.
While there are some studies that have shown that it is safe to have an occasional glass of wine while pregnant, many doctors aren't comfortable with the idea. There are too many things that could go wrong. It's definitely healthier to just abstain from alcohol for nine months.
3 Cut Down On Caffeine
Caffeine is a natural stimulant that helps some people wake up in the morning, but for a baby, it can be a problem. That's why moms are encouraged to limit caffeine intake during pregnancy to about 200 milligrams a day. That's less than two cups of coffee, and it also might mean switching to decaf tea and cutting out sodas. Even chocolate has caffeine in it, so it might need to be limited.
There are some research studies that show that caffeine can be passed to the baby through the placenta, and that an impact blood pressure and heart rate. It might not seem like a big deal, but it could be pretty bad for the baby. There is an increased risk of miscarriage when you consume too much caffeine, and that means it's best to avoid the caffeine as much as you can.
2 No Dangerous Sports
Women might love skiing, but it's not a good idea while pregnant. That's because there are a number of sports that have a high risk of falls, and the risk is even higher when you are pregnant — and the consequences to the baby can be severe.
Doctors recommend that women don't ski or horseback ride — and certainly no skydiving or things like that. A mom-to-be's center of gravity is off when she is pregnant, so even someone who is experienced on the slopes could end up falling down. There is a risk for placental abruption, which could be fatal to the baby. It's just not worth the risk of the baby's health to participate in a dangerous sport or activity.
1 Don't Gain Too Much
Some women think that gaining weight is a mother's job during pregnancy — some think the more weight, the healthier the baby. But there are consequences to gaining too much weight, and it isn't just a problem for the mom to lose the weight afterward. It can truly hurt the baby's health.
The more weight that a mom gains might mean that the baby gains extra weight as well. That might mean that the baby is so big that the delivery can be complicated, or the baby might get injured with shoulder dystocia, for example. Doctors recommend that moms gain 25 to 35 pounds if they start out at a healthy weight, and that isn't just for the mom's health, as everything effects the baby during pregnancy.
References: Family Doctor, Fit Pregnancy, Baby Center, Today's Parent, American Pregnancy, March of Dimes