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Taking Care of Yourself Before and During Pregnancy

January 17, 2024

Doctor examining pregnant woman

Pregnancy can be a wonderful and physically demanding time for women. With so much information available, it can be challenging to know what’s allowed and what’s off limits. Read on for expert tips on taking care of yourself before and during your pregnancy.

“Pregnancy is a beautiful journey, and the good news is that the vast majority of women will deliver a happy, healthy baby,” says Fatima Naqvi, MD, obstetrician and gynecologist at Atlantic Health System. “Working in partnership with your medical care team can help identify and address any concerns early, as well as set your mind at ease about the process your body is going through.”

Medications and Supplements

Whether you are hoping to become pregnant or already expecting a bundle of joy, Dr. Naqvi says it’s essential to make an appointment with your obstetrician or midwife to discuss your health conditions and the best way to manage them during your pregnancy. Because some medications can be harmful to a developing fetus, it’s important to tell your doctor about every prescription or over-the-counter medications you take, as well as any herbal supplements.

Because supplements are not regulated by the FDA, Dr. Naqvi says they should be used with caution. However, she stresses that women planning to become pregnant, those who are already expecting and women of childbearing age who are not using a reliable form of birth control should take a daily prenatal vitamin. A daily prenatal vitamin provides not only the nutrients and minerals required for a healthy pregnancy, but also folic acid, which is crucial to the prevention of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.

Healthy Weight Goals and Exercise

When it comes to healthy weight gain, Dr. Naqvi says most women can expect to gain between 25 and 35 pounds over the course of their pregnancy. Of course, your pre-pregnancy weight will play a role in your suggested daily calorie intake. Your health care provider can outline a suggested plan for weight gain or maintenance depending on your health history and how well your baby is growing and gaining weight.

Dr. Naqvi explains that starting a new fitness routine after you become pregnant isn’t a good idea. However, she says a brisk walk two or three days a week can be a great way to get moving and boost your cardiovascular health during pregnancy. If you already have an established fitness routine, there’s no reason to stop your favorite exercise if your OB approves. But because your center of gravity will shift during your pregnancy, activities that could lead to falls or trauma should be avoided, as well as anything that requires you to lie flat on your back after 20 weeks.

“Exercise during pregnancy is very safe for women who are fit and want to continue with a routine they are comfortable with, such as running,” says Dr. Naqvi. “Trying to start a new exercise program during pregnancy is just stacking on another challenge during an already physically demanding time.”

Healthy Eating for Two

A well-balanced diet is crucial to the health of both mother and baby. Dr. Naqvi is a fan of the MyPlate website and app, which offers advice on how to make healthy food selections and which foods to avoid during pregnancy. In general, she recommends plenty of lean protein, healthy fats, whole grains and well-washed fruits and vegetables. As overwhelming as pregnancy cravings might be, she says limiting solid fats and excessive sugar, as well as processed and fast food, is best.

In addition to all alcohol and marijuana, Dr. Naqvi says the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that pregnant women avoid the following food items:

  • Soft, unpasteurized cheeses such as brie, blue cheese, some feta and queso fresco
  • Deli meats, such as hot dogs and sliced lunch meat unless heated to steaming
  • Unpasteurized beverages such as milk or juice
  • Products that contain raw eggs, such as cookie dough, homemade ice cream and some salad dressings
  • Raw fish or meats, such as sushi, steak tartare and ahi tuna
  • Fish high in mercury, including shark, tilefish, swordfish, king mackerel and tuna steaks

Whether it’s your first pregnancy or your fourth, consistent and timely prenatal care, along with a few simple changes to your activities and diet, can safeguard the health of both mother and baby.

“Your body is going to change significantly during every pregnancy, and no two women will have the same experience,” says Dr. Naqvi. “I encourage all my patients to listen to their body. You can rely on your developing sense of what feels right and when to reach out to your OB or midwife. We’re here to help guide you through this amazing time.”

  • Pregnancy