A million thoughts cross your mind when you find out you are pregnant. I often hear “What do I do first?” from newly pregnant moms-to-be. Calling your doctor to get on their schedule is always a good first step; however, many obstetricians will not see you for your first appointment until between six and 12 weeks of pregnancy. There are lots of things you need to know before then!
Whether you are a first-time mom or need a refresher, there are many early pregnancy tips and advice you should heed from the moment you find out you are expecting. You may wonder if you can continue your current exercise regimen, overhaul your diet, or continue your morning coffee routine. What other lifestyle changes might you need to make? The essential early pregnancy advice and tips for growing a healthy baby are outlined here.
Eat a Healthy Diet
During early pregnancy, your body’s demand for critical vitamins and minerals increases as the placenta forms and your body makes more blood to supply the growing fetus. A diet high in fruits and vegetables, protein, and fiber can help to meet these increased nutritional needs. Some of these foods may be difficult to stomach if you struggle with morning sickness. Any foods in these categories that you can stomach right now will suffice, and eating the same few foods is okay.
Take a Prenatal Vitamin
It can often be challenging to meet all your nutritional needs through diet alone during early pregnancy. Therefore, it is essential to take a prenatal vitamin from the day you find out you are pregnant if you were not already before conception. One of the most crucial nutrients in a prenatal vitamin is folate or folic acid, which helps prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida. A good prenatal should also include iron for blood production and oxygen supply to the uterus and fetus.1 Prenatal vitamins can sometimes cause nausea, so try taking them at different times of the day if it upsets your stomach. They can also contribute to constipation, so drink plenty of water, eat plenty of fiber, and get some gentle movement in.
In addition to helping relieve constipation from prenatal vitamins, drinking enough water is essential in early pregnancy. Water aids digestion and makes up most of the amniotic fluid surrounding your baby. Water also helps nutrients circulate through your body and helps your body excrete waste products. Aim for 64 to 96 ounces of water per day.2
Eat Enough Calories
If you were at a normal weight pre-pregnancy, you should gain between 25 and 35 pounds throughout pregnancy. Your caloric requirements in the first trimester do not increase much from your baseline. Still, it is essential to fuel your body during the first trimester, even when you do not have much appetite due to morning sickness. It is recommended that most normal-weight women consume about 1,800 calories per day during the first trimester.3
Work Out Your Pelvic Floor
Pelvic floor exercises also called Kegel exercises, strengthen the muscles that support the uterus, bladder, and bowels. As your abdomen grows to accommodate a pregnancy, these muscles will be put under increased strain. Getting a jump-start on strengthening them will set you up for success. Your awareness and control of these muscles may also help to relax and control them during labor and delivery. Strong pelvic floor muscles may also make for an easier postpartum recovery.
To do Kegel exercises, pretend you are trying to stop your flow of urine mid-stream. Contract these muscles for 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat 15 times in a row. You can do this three times per day.4
In addition to exercising your pelvic floor, most pregnant women can benefit from regular exercise during pregnancy. Exercise can help digestion, fatigue, posture, and other discomforts such as back pain. Most exercise routines you were doing before pregnancy can be safely continued with appropriate modifications.4 Talk to your provider about your specific circumstances, and always start with low-intensity exercise and work your way up.
Things to Avoid in Early Pregnancy
New Introduction of Strenuous Exercise
Although exercise has many benefits during pregnancy, you should generally avoid extreme, strenuous exercise. Some medical professionals recommend staying below 70 percent of your target heart rate. Target heart rate can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220.4 You should also avoid contact sports that may cause a blow to the abdomen.5
If possible, women should avoid heavy lifting while pregnant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heavy lifting is linked to an increased risk of miscarriage.6 Heavy lifting can also contribute to injuries such as strained muscles and herniated discs which can be difficult to treat during pregnancy. If you must lift an object (or a toddler!) while pregnant, make sure to lift safely—bend at the knees, not at the waist, and keep your back as straight as possible. Also, avoid any sudden or jerking movements while lifting.7
If your core body temperature rises above 102 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 10 minutes, your baby is at risk for miscarriage and developmental problems such as neural tube defects. This heat could also cause dehydration in the mother. Because of the dangers of overheating, especially in early pregnancy, it is best to avoid saunas, steam rooms, heated blankets, heating pads, hot yoga, and hot tubs.8
There is no safe amount or time when alcohol consumption is safe during pregnancy. The type of alcohol does not matter or how far along you are. Alcohol consumption increases your risk for miscarriage and stillbirth. It also increases your baby’s risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which can cause lifelong physical and developmental issues.9
Studies conflict on the risks of caffeine during pregnancy. Some sources suggest that high doses of caffeine may cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or low birth weight.10 Other studies show that moderate amounts of caffeine decrease the risk of gestational diabetes. Despite this evidence, it is not recommended to start consuming caffeine if you do not already.11 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests limiting daily caffeine intake to 200 mg or less—about the amount in one 12-ounce cup of coffee.12
Smoking and the use of tobacco products should be avoided during pregnancy. Tobacco increases your risk for ectopic pregnancy, placental and thyroid issues, preterm labor, fetal growth restriction, and stillbirth. No amount of smoking is considered safe in pregnancy.13
All recreational drugs should be avoided during pregnancy. Different illegal substances put your baby at risk for prematurity, growth issues, intellectual delays, and other congenital disabilities. Additionally, your baby may be born addicted to the drugs you use. You should inform your doctor of any recreational drug use during your pregnancy, as they may have assistance available to help you quit and help your baby at delivery.8
During pregnancy, your immune system is suppressed, so your body does not reject your growing baby. This makes you more susceptible to foodborne illnesses, which is why avoiding foods with a high risk of bacterial contamination is essential. This includes soft, unpasteurized cheeses, unpasteurized dairy and juices, raw eggs, undercooked meat and seafood, and processed meats such as hot dogs and deli meats unless heated. These foods may harbor listeria, salmonella, or toxoplasmosis, which can cause miscarriage or congenital disabilities.
You should also avoid foods containing heavy metals, especially mercury. These include shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and tuna steak. Mercury can cause brain damage to your developing baby.8
Pregnancy can feel like an extensive list of rules, especially when you are newly pregnant and adjusting to everything you should and shouldn’t do. Always check with your provider if you are unsure whether food, medication, or activity is safe. In the meantime, remember that all your sacrifices during pregnancy are temporary. It may seem far off while you are still in early pregnancy, but adhering to “the rules” will be worth it when you get to hold your baby in your arms.