While it is a time full of excitement and anticipation, pregnancy can also bring with it worry and anxiety. One of the top concerns for pregnant women? How to stay healthy, for their sake and that of their unborn baby.
Women are wise to give their own health and well-being a bit more attention while pregnant. Research has shown that a mother’s health has a direct impact not only on her but also on the health of her baby. Women who take care of themselves, eat well, exercise regularly and avoid harmful substances are less likely to have complications during pregnancy. They’re also more likely to give birth to a healthy baby.
Local OB/GYN Dr. Faye Jensen with Grass Valley Women’s Center says a good place to start is with what you eat.
“I tell my patients to focus on eating a diet that is as plant-based as possible,” she says. “You don’t have to be a full vegetarian, but try to eat lots of salads, fruits and plant-based proteins like legumes, beans and lentils.”
Eating a nutritious diet during pregnancy is linked to good fetal brain development, a healthy birth weight, and it reduces the risk of many birth defects.
Research has shown that a balanced diet will also reduce the risks of anemia, as well as other unpleasant pregnancy symptoms such as fatigue and morning sickness.
Good nutrition may help balance mood swings and improve labor and delivery, as well.
Regular exercise can also help not only lessen the discomfort of pregnancy but also ease some of the challenges of childbirth.
“Exercise is important during pregnancy,” Dr. Jensen explains. “It can help with weight gain and improve muscle tone, which helps with labor and delivery.”
Dr. Jensen does caution her patients against physical sports like skiing, basketball or soccer.
“Basically, anything where you can fall or get hit is not a good idea,” she says. “Even mountain biking is dangerous, given the fall risk. Better options are yoga, stretching, and walking. Swimming is also a great exercise while you’re pregnant.”
Another important aspect of prenatal health is sleep.
“When you’re pregnant, you are so uncomfortable and you also have to use the bathroom frequently – both of those things make sleeping difficult,” Dr. Jensen says. “Try to practice what we call good sleep hygiene. Play some soft music and go to bed at a regular time. And if you are really struggling, either Benadryl or Unisom are safe during pregnancy.”
In fact, Dr. Jensen says that Unisom (a name brand, over the counter sleep aid) can actually help with pregnancy-related nausea as well, so she will often recommend it to pregnant women struggling with morning sickness and sleep deprivation.
Another benefit to good nutrition, regular exercise, and ample sleep during pregnancy? They can all help your immune system stay strong.
“Avoiding colds and other viruses is particularly important while pregnant because your immune system is compromised,” she explains. “Pregnant women are especially susceptible to the flu and tend to get sicker from it. We strongly recommend every pregnant woman get the flu shot. And whether you have a cold or the flu, watch out for high fevers, which can be dangerous to your baby and should immediately be reported to your doctor.”
If you do get sick, Dr. Jensen says pregnant women should avoid combination cold medicine because decongestants have not been shown to be safe during pregnancy. “The best bet during pregnancy is to stay with either Tylenol, Benadryl or plain Robitussin.”
Finally, Dr. Jensen says seeing your healthcare provider regularly for prenatal care is the most important thing you can do for your health and that of your baby. “When you see your provider regularly during pregnancy, we are able to screen for and identify your risk factors and help to manage them.”
That proactive type of care, combined with healthy habits, can help ensure a good pregnancy and healthy baby.
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