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Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond

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First trimester: Having a healthy pregnancy

Most of the things that make for a healthy pregnancy are the same things that make for a healthy lifestyle.

Good for you and your baby

Bad for you and your baby

Eat well

Eating a variety of healthful foods will promote both your baby's health and your own. You'll feel better if you eat often enough to keep your blood glucose stable and your energy constant. Try to:

  • Eat nutritious foods in small amounts.
  • Limit or avoid foods high in calories from sugar or fat.
  • Choose whole grains, fruits and vegetables for their nutrients and fiber.
  • Choose lean sources of protein such as chicken, turkey and fish.
  • Eat foods high in calcium and iron.

Top 20 foods for pregnancy

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Weight gain

Tip

Talk with your health care provider if you have a history of any type of eating disorder, or if watching the numbers go up on the scale bothers you.

It's natural and important to gain weight during pregnancy. The usual suggestion is 25 to 35 pounds. How much is right for you is determined by your weight before you got pregnant, your age and whether you are carrying more than one baby. Talk to your health care provider about how much weight you should gain.

Although it's all right if you don't gain weight in the first trimester because of nausea, it's important to gain weight steadily after that. Your baby has a continuous need for calories and nutrients.

It's not a good idea to diet or skip meals in an attempt to curb weight gain. instead, focus on eating healthful foods that are low in fat and processed sugar.

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Continue dental care

Keep up your routine dental care and tell your dentist that you are pregnant. Routine X-rays can be delayed until after your baby is born. But if you have a dental problem, it's important to take care of it. It's fine to have Novocaine™ if you need it.

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Wear your seat belt

Wear a lap/shoulder belt every time you drive or ride in a car. Wear the lower part of the belt under your belly, against your upper thighs. The shoulder portion should rest between your breasts and to one side of your belly. Tighten the belt as snugly as you can.

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Use only approved medicines

Tip

Do not use lotions that contain Retin-A®. Some natural herbs can be toxic or have unwanted effects when used in pregnancy. Check with your health care provider before starting or continuing herbal products and supplements.

As a general rule, use as few medicines as possible during your pregnancy. Tell your health care provider all the prescription, over-the-counter medicine, herbals or natural products, and vitamins that you currently take. Although many medicines are safe when used correctly, you'll want to make sure they are safe to continue taking. Don't stop taking prescribed medicines without your health care provider's approval.

Many health care providers approve the use of over-the-counter medicines to treat colds and other discomforts. These medicines include acetaminophen (Tylenol® and others), plain Robitussin® or the equivalent for coughs, and antacids like Maalox®, Mylanta® and Tums® for heartburn. Ask your health care provider which medicine is best for you.

Natural herbs and supplements are not necessarily safe to use during pregnancy. For example, don't take mega-doses of any vitamin. Taking more than 10,000 units a day of vitamin A during the first trimester can cause problems with a baby's development.

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Get exercise

Warning

Stop exercising and call your health provider if you have any of these symptoms:

  • chest pain or tightness
  • rapid heart rate or breathlessness that does not go away
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • headache
  • nausea and vomiting
  • difficulty walking
  • uterine contractions
  • blood or fluid leaking from your vagina.

Most women can continue exercising during pregnancy, adapting their routine as pregnancy progresses. Regular exercise like walking, swimming and bicycling is usually encouraged during a low-risk pregnancy. If you have been exercising, talk with your health care provider about continuing your program. If you are not used to exercising, talk with your health care provider before you start an exercise program. If you have a high-risk pregnancy or are at risk for preterm birth, talk to your health care provider.

The following tips and guidelines contain general information. If you have specific questions about exercise, talk with your health care provider.

  • Wear a support bra and light, comfortable clothing.
  • Avoid exercising in hot, humid weather or if you have a fever.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.
  • Start with a warm-up to slowly increase your heart rate and breathing.
  • When stretching before and after a workout, slowly stretch only to the point of feeling gently tension and keep breathing during the stretch.
  • Do all exercises in a slow, controlled manner. Avoid jerky, bouncy movements that over-stretch and strain muscles.
  • Exercise at a moderate level. You should be able to talk normally during exercise.
  • Stop exercising if you feel tired.
  • End your exercise with a cool-down period to allow your heart rate and breathing to return to normal.

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Don't smoke

Cigarette smoke contains more than 60 chemicals that are known to cause cancer in humans. Smoking decreases blood flow to your baby, which means your baby gets less oxygen. That means your baby is likely to weigh less at birth and may even be born premature. Smoking increases the risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, and sudden infant death syndrome.

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Don't drink alcohol

Drinking alcohol (including beer, wine and wine coolers) during pregnancy will harm a developing baby. The result can be birth defects and lifelong learning problems. Even small amounts of alcohol can hurt brain development. That is why pregnant women should avoid drinking alcohol.

If you are concerned about alcohol you consumed before you knew you were pregnant, talk with your health care provider. If you need help to stop drinking, talk with your health care provider. It might also help to take our alcohol and drug use inventory.

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Don't use drugs

Using street drugs during pregnancy can harm a developing baby. There is no safe amount.

  • Marijuana (weed, pot) may affect brain development that results in behavior and learning problems in childhood. Because marijuana can be stored in the body, a developing baby can be exposed to the drug long after the mother's use.
  • Cocaine and methamphetamines (meth, crank, speed) can damage blood vessels and cause premature labor. Babies born to mothers who use these drugs are often fussy and irritable and have sleeping and feeding problems. Cocaine can cause significant health problems for the mother, including stroke and heart attack, and can cause the death of an unborn baby. Methamphetamine use increases the risk of birth defects and may affect a baby's brain development.
  • Heroin use significantly increases the risk of pregnancy complications. In addition, many babies are born early and with low birth weight. Heroin and opiates cause physical dependence. Babies born to users have withdrawal symptoms after they are born.

If you can't stop using drugs, talk to your health care provider. There are resources that can help you. It might also help to take our alcohol and drug use inventory.

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Limit caffeine

Caffeine speeds up your heart rate and stimulates your central nervous system. It also makes you need to go to the bathroom more often, which can cause your body to lose nutrients like calcium. It's best to limit the amount of caffeine each day to two 6-ounce cups of coffee, or three cups of tea, or two cans of caffeinated soda. Don't drink it all at once.

Coffee bought at coffee shops generally contains more caffeine than home-brewed coffee. The amount of caffeine can vary by coffee bean and blend. Limit your coffee shop purchase to less than 12 ounces each day. (This will be your total daily caffeine intake.) Watch for the caffeine content in specialty coffees like espresso.

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Avoid exposure to toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite that may be found in cat feces and raw meat, especially pork.

Although the symptoms are mild in adults, the infection can cause problems in the developing baby, especially in the first trimester. To avoid exposure:

  • Have someone else change your cat's litter box.
  • Wear gloves when you work in the garden or handle outdoor soil. Wash your hands carefully after you've taken off your gloves.
  • Prevent exposure through raw or undercooked meat.

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Avoid exposure to other infections

Protect yourself and your baby from exposure to children and adults who have these diseases:

These diseases can cause complications. Ask your health care provider about precautions you can take and notify him or her if you know you have been exposed.

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Avoid getting overheated

Overheating your body can cause dehydration and pregnancy complications. It is best to keep your body temperature below 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Most health care providers suggest avoiding hot tubs, saunas, and sunbathing during the first trimester. Ask your health care provider about how best to limit these activities later in pregnancy.

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Avoid harmful chemicals

Exposed to lead?

Ask your health care provider for a lead exposure questionnaire if you think you have been exposed to lead through work, home remodeling or hobbies (such as stained glass or pottery).

  • Reduce your risk of exposure to lead, which can affect your baby's brain development.
    • Lead may be found in drinking water. The most common source is from metal pipes. If you have metal water pipes, you can lower your exposure risk by cooking only with cold water. Run the water until it is as cold as it can get. This assures the water has not been stored in the pipes.
    • If you live in a house built before 1978, avoid being around when old paint is disturbed by scraping and sanding. Stay away until the area has been vacuumed and wiped down with a damp cloth.
    • Don't use ceramic dishes that have lead in the glaze.
    • Don't eat or drink from crystal because it can leach lead. This is especially true if the food or liquid is acidic and has been in contact with the crystal for more than a few hours.
  • Avoid exposure to chemicals that kill insect or plants.
  • Talk with your health care provider if your job or a hobby involves chemicals or heavy metals.
  • Although most home cleaning products are safe to use, avoid strong and noxious fumes. They can make you dizzy. Read product labels and use the products as directed in well-ventilated areas. If you are bothered by the odor, ask someone else to use the product if you can't find a milder one.

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Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, sixth edition, preg-ahc-90026, ISBN 1-931876-25-8

First published: 10/04/2002
Last updated: 08/22/2011

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts