Eating healthy foods and a balanced diet is important during pregnancy. Eating from all of the main food groups will help to keep you feeling well, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, along with bread and cereals, milk and milk products, meat, seafood, legumes, eggs, nuts and seeds. It is important to limit the amount of processed foods you eat and avoid drinks that are high in sugar, salt or fat. Drinking plenty of water each day will keep you hydrated.
During pregnancy food choices are important for health and nutrition but also for food safety. There are some conditions linked to food contamination and exposure to bacteria such as listeria, salmonella, campylobacter, and e coli, and toxins such as toxoplasma that can be avoided by taking some food safety steps. The usual food hygiene conditions also apply such as safe handling, storage and protection of foods from cross-contamination but there are also some foods that are best avoided.
Additional vitamins to take
Folic acid is a vitamin and low levels have been linked to neural tube defects such as spina bifida. The risk of this happening can be lowered by taking a folic acid tablet (0.8mcg) every day – before pregnancy (if the pregnancy is planned) and for the first three months of the pregnancy. Your midwife will prescribe folic acid, or it is available from any pharmacy.
Iodine is an essential nutrient for normal growth and development and during pregnancy the need for iodine increases. It is difficult to get the necessary amount of extra iodine needed from food alone so additional iodine (in a tablet form) should be taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Your midwife will provide a prescription for this.
Vitamin D is found in some foods, but the main source is sunlight, it is necessary for strong bones and joints. Your body makes vitamin D through exposure to the sun although it is also important to ensure protection during summer (especially between 10am and 4pm). Supplementary Vitamin D is not considered necessary unless you have darker skin, completely avoid sun exposure, have a liver or kidney disease or are on certain medications. Discuss any concerns with your midwife.
Vegetarian, vegan and other special diets
Most vegetarian and vegan diets meet the nutritional needs of pregnancy and the growing baby, however, there may be concerns about getting enough iron or vitamin B12. Talk to your midwife about your diet to get further advice. If you follow other special diets which restrict certain foods talk to your midwife to identify what supplements you may need.
In the first few months of pregnancy you may feel extra tired as the pregnancy hormones affect your body. It is important to stay as active as possible during your pregnancy so that you remain healthy, stay strong and have the fitness you will need for labour and birth. Walking and swimming are great activities for pregnant women, although any activity that you enjoy and is comfortable can be beneficial. Contact sports are not recommended. If you are unsure talk to your midwife.
It is important to avoid exercising in hot conditions or to the point of exhaustion.
Pelvic floor exercises
The pregnancy hormones can soften ligaments and this is more likely to happen to the pelvic floor muscles. These are the muscles responsible for controlling when you pass urine, so it is important to learn how to do pelvic floor exercises and do them daily during pregnancy and following the birth.