Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy
Danielle Symons Downs, PhD; Professor of Kinesiology and Obstetrics & Gynecology, The Pennsylvania State University
You may be aware of the benefits of being active and eating a healthy diet during pregnancy. For example, regular physical activity can help you manage stress, improve mood, promote healthy weight gain, reduce back pain, and decrease your risks for gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarean delivery. Eating healthy during pregnancy can also help to manage weight gain and help you and your baby get essential vitamins and nutrients. However, when pregnancy brings a slew of physical and emotional changes, regularly engaging in activity and healthy eating can seem easier said than done! We’ve compiled some practical tips for staying healthy during pregnancy.
Current Pregnancy Health Guidelines
- Guidelines for physical activity: Aim to accumulate 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity activity. Brisk walking, swimming, stationary cycling, and yoga are typically safe during pregnancy. However, if you experience dizziness, chest pain, headache, painful contractions, vaginal bleeding, or fluid leakage, stop exercising and contact your health care provider right away.
- Guidelines for nutrition: During pregnancy, you should strive to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products; take prenatal vitamins with folic acid; and eat an extra 300 or so calories per day during the second and third trimesters. 300 calories is about one extra snack such as an apple and a cup of yogurt—not eating for two!
- Guidelines for weight gain during pregnancy: The Institute of Medicine has recommendations for weight gain that are tailored based on your size and the number of babies that you are carrying. Weight gain should occur gradually in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy. To determine your tailored weight gain goal, try using this tool: https://www.babycenter.com/pregnancy-weight-gain-estimator.
Steps to a Healthier Pregnancy
- Keep weight on your radar and aim to meet the weight gain guidelines. Your expectations for weight gain during pregnancy may impact your actual weight gain. A recent study found that women who reported expecting to gain more than the Institute of Medicine’s guidelines were three times more likely to actually gain more than recommended. That’s a powerful self-fulfilling prophecy!
- Sit less during pregnancy. Every day we learn more about the benefits of time spent standing and moving as compared to sitting. The good news is, reducing your sitting can be achieved by incorporating small changes into your day. Try these tips to create a habit: (1) Use an app or set a timer to stand every 30 minutes, and when the timer goes off, stand up and move your body. This does not have to be a brisk walk – standing, stretching, and walking in place for 5 minutes is a great start. (2) Look for other daily activities where you can replace sitting with standing (e.g., talking on the phone, meeting with a friend or colleague, etc.).
- Get creative with food cravings. If you’re craving foods that are high in fats and sugars, try combining something healthier with something less healthy. For example, mix a high fiber cereal with a tablespoon of sweet crunchy granola instead of an entire bowl of granola, or eat an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter instead of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The MyPlate Daily Checklist (https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlatePlan) provides information on how much to eat during pregnancy to help you choose the right amounts of food from each food group and is personalized based on your age, height, weight, etc.
- Enroll in a yoga class. Yoga is a feasible option for exercise during pregnancy, and can help you feel better physically and mentally. If you are new to yoga, make sure to attend a class in which the instructor is experienced with yoga modifications for pregnancy. Listen to your body and if the pose doesn’t feel right, skip it. Look for classes that are geared for pregnant women or are restorative or yin-based which will be less intense than a Vinyasa or Power yoga class. If you have experience with yoga and want to practice at home, try an online resource like Udaya.com.
- Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated is good for both mom and baby, and can help you feel fuller between meals and snacks. Invest in a large reusable water bottle so you can keep fresh, cold water at your fingertips throughout the day (and night!).
- Plan several 10-minute bouts of activity into your day. If you don’t have the time or energy for a full 30 or 60-minute workout, plan to take a quick 10-minute walk in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Try walking right after you finish a meal, and consider using an app or fitness tracker to set goals and monitor your progress.
- Use a mobile app for tracking diet, physical activity, and weight gain. Look for the features such as: (1) The app allows you to enter personalized information such as pre-pregnancy weight, estimated due date, etc.; (2) The app is comprehensive and has multiple capabilities (e.g., logging food and exercise, accessing resources such as healthy recipes and sample workouts, etc.); (3) The app provides information from trusted, reputable sources.