Pregnancy is a perfectly natural state and should be a happy, healthy, and exciting period in your life. But it does represent a major change, and you have to adapt your lifestyle to meet the needs of the baby developing inside you.
This section discusses some of the things you can do to take care of yourself and your baby. It includes things like exercise, rest, personal hygiene, clothing, sexual relations, work, and travel. Some will require an extra effort on your part, but they are all designed to improve your chances of having a healthy baby.
Your baby is completely dependent on you for everything, so your diet must include foods that supply what your baby needs to build a healthy body. But remember, just as your baby gets its food from you,
if you smoke so does your baby
if you drink alcoholic beverages so does your baby
if you use drugs or medicines so does your baby
All these things can harm your developing baby and may cause health and developmental problems later. If you do any of these potentially harmful things, this is a good time to “kick the habit.” Talk to your doctor or someone at the clinic; they will be able to advise and help you.
Exercise is very important to you and your baby. If you stay active you will feel better. Outdoor exercise and recreation give you a chance to get sunshine and fresh air. Walking is particularly good because it strengthens some of the muscles you will use in labor.
Avoid lifting heavy objects and moving furniture while you are pregnant. Stretching will not harm you or your baby, but don’t reach for things from a chair or ladder because you might lose your balance and fall. During the latter part of your pregnancy, you will probably begin to feel awkward because your balance is affected by your increasing size. At this point you may want to substitute walking for more active sports.
Do some yoga exercises that are useful for strengthening muscles used in labor and delivery. They are quite simple to do and can be practiced whenever you have an opportunity to sit for a few minutes. Here are few more exercise for the pregnant women.
While seated on the floor, bring your feet close to your body, and cross your ankles. Maintain this position as long as it is comfortable to do so.
While seated on the floor, bring the soles of your feet together as close to your body as is comfortable. Place your hands under your knees and press down with your knees while resisting the pressure with your hands. Count slowly to three, then relax. Gradually increase the number of presses until you are doing them ten times, twice each day.
While seated on the floor and keeping your back straight, stretch your legs in front of you with your feet about a foot apart. Allow your feet to flop outward. Stretch your hands forward toward your left foot, then back; toward the center, then back; toward the right foot, then back. Gradually increase the sets of stretches until you are doing ten of them twice a day.
This is sometimes called the Pelvic Floor Exercise because it is designed to strengthen the muscles in your pelvis. After you have practiced it, you will be able to relax your pelvic muscles for delivery. First, sit down. Then contract the lowest muscles of the pelvis as tightly as you can. Tighten muscles higher in the pelvis until you are contracting the muscles at the top. Counting slowly to 10 helps, tightening additional muscles at each number. Release slowly, as you count back from 10 to 1. You are developing control of the muscles so that you can stop at any point.
These muscles are the same ones you use to stop the flow of urine. To see if you are doing the Kegel exercise correctly, try stopping the flow of urine while you are urinating. Practice the exercise for several minutes two or three times a day. An alternate method of doing the Kegel exercise is to tighten first the pelvic muscles then the anal muscle. Hold a few seconds, then release slowly in a reverse order.
There are breathing techniques that you can practice while you are pregnant to help you relax during labor. They also help reduce muscle tension that works against the contractions and causes pain. If you are able to relax, you will be able to use the rest periods between labor contractions to reduce fatigue and build up your energy.
Lie down with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Breathe in once as deeply as possible, then hiss or blow the air out slowly through your mouth. Let yourself completely relax.
Pretend that you are having a contraction that lasts about 30 to 45 seconds. At the beginning of the contraction, take a complete breath and blow it out. Then breathe deeply, slowly, and rhythmically through the remainder of the practice contraction. Have your partner or coach go through this technique with you.
This exercise helps keep the abdominal wall relaxed and keeps the uterus from pressing against the lining of the abdomen. Lie down and place your hands on your abdomen. Breathe in slowly and fully, allowing your abdominal wall to rise gently. Hold this position for four to six heartbeats. Breathe out slowly and smoothly through the mouth, allowing your abdomen to fall. Relax. Repeat four or five times.
You can learn about other breathing techniques in prenatal classes or from your doctor.
Rest is just as important as exercise during pregnancy. Be sure to get plenty of sleep at night. Most pregnant women need about 8 hours of sleep but your needs may be different. You may also need to rest during the day.
There are some things you can do to keep from getting too tired. If your work requires you to be on your feet most of the day, try to sit down, put your feet up, and close your eyes whenever it is convenient. But if you spend most of your time sitting, get up and walk around for a few minutes every hour. When you are at home, take a nap during the day, especially if you have children who take naps. Plan a short rest period and really relax about the same time every day. When resting, you may find it more comfortable to use an extra pillow as shown in the illustration.
Try to find easier ways to do things. And ask other members of the family to share the workload. Perhaps someone else can help with the grocery shopping, laundry, and housework.
You should also know the best way to get out of bed:
a. Turn onto your side.
b. While bending your knees, use your arms to raise yourself up.
c. Lower your feet to the floor.
d. Sit upright for a few moments and hold onto the side of the bed.
e. Lean forward.
f. Use the muscles in your legs to rise.
During pregnancy you will probably perspire more and have slight vaginal discharge because your body is going through many hormonal changes. Your usual daily bathing or showering will not only refresh and relax you, but also help prevent infection. Special creams are available to soothe and soften dry, scaly skin should it occur. Never douche during pregnancy unless your doctor specifically tells you to.
It is always a good idea to put a rubber mat in the tub or shower to prevent slipping. Keep the water temperature warm but not hot, particularly in early and late pregnancy because hot water may make you feel dizzy or lightheaded. Tub baths may become more difficult near the end of pregnancy when your center of balance shifts. You may want to switch to showers or have someone help you in and out of the tub.
Wearing a bra that provides firm support during your pregnancy may make your breasts more comfortable. About the third or fourth month, you may need to get a larger bra (such as a maternity bra) that fits well without pressing, binding, or rubbing against your nipples. If your breasts are large, you may be more comfortable wearing a bra at night as well as during the day.
About the middle of pregnancy, your nipples may drip a small amount of clear or yellowish fluid called colostrums. This is a sign that your body is preparing for breast feeding. Colostrums can dry into a crust around your nipples and should be washed off with only warm water since soap and alcohol dry out the skin and make your breasts sore. If colostrums leakage is a problem, wear a cotton or absorbent pad in your bra. To avoid irritation or infection, the pad should be replaced when wet.
Preparing to Breast Feed
If you plan to breast feed your baby, start to prepare your breasts during the seventh or eighth month. Your doctor or nurse may suggest some exercises to do every day. They may include the following:
Rubbing your nipples gently with a towel.
Gently rolling each nipple between your thumb and finger four or five times.
Gently stretching each nipple to the side.
Massaging your breasts.
Exposing your breasts to sunlight and air.
Letting your breasts rub against your clothing several times each day.
Care of Teeth
Oral health is an important part of your total health and physical well-being. As early as possible in your pregnancy, see your dentist to be checked for tooth decay, gum disease, and other dental problems and get the necessary treatment. Because you require special care and attention at this time be sure to tell your dentist that you are pregnant or suspect that you might be pregnant. Discuss with your dentist the use of local X-rays, anesthetic agents, pain medications, and other drugs. Your dentist is trained to weigh the benefits and risks of your particular situation and recommend alternative procedures and treatments.
Brush and floss your teeth at least once a day. This disrupts plaque and bacteria that cause tooth decay and also will help you maintain healthy gums.
An early dental examination followed by necessary treatment, good oral hygiene practices, and a well-balanced diet will help you maintain bright and healthy teeth. A well-balanced diet will insure that your baby develops and cuts healthy, sound teeth.
Avoid sweets such as caramels, hard candies, sticky foods, and soft drinks. If you have some of these occasionally, eat or drink them at one time instead of several times throughout the day and then brush your teeth or at least rinse with water. Sugar buildup in your mouth, even for a few hours, can contribute to tooth decay.
During the fourth month of pregnancy you may notice your clothes are tight and your bras are uncomfortable. Maternity clothes are not really necessary at this time, but loose clothing may be more comfortable. Some women feel much warmer during pregnancy and find lighter weight fabrics are more pleasant. Avoid tight belts, bras, girdles, slacks, garters, and knee socks. Clothes that cut circulation around the legs lead to varicose or enlarged veins.
A bra that fits and provides good support to your breasts is important. If you plan to breast feed your baby, it may be more economical to buy a nursing bra to wear during pregnancy, too. Nursing bras are designed with flaps that unhook to allow easy access for breast feeding.
Your shoes should have a medium or low heel and provide firm support. Wearing high heels may result in an accident or an aching back.
For the healthy woman, there are few restrictions on sexual intercourse during pregnancy. However, it is perfectly normal for your feelings about sex to change during this time. You may go through temporary periods when your desire for sexual intercourse increases or decreases. As the pregnancy progresses and your abdomen becomes large, intercourse may be uncomfortable and you and your partner may want to experiment with more comfortable positions.
Usually there is no problem with having intercourse into the ninth month, but it’s best to discuss this with your doctor. There may be times when your doctor suggests that you do not have intercourse because it might interfere with the normal course of your pregnancy. Intercourse is likely to be restricted in early pregnancy if you have had a history of miscarriages, or later if you have had premature births.
See your doctor as soon as possible if intercourse is painful, if you have bleeding or infection, or if your water breaks prematurely. When any of these signs occur, discontinue intercourse.
More women than ever are continuing to work during pregnancy. It is best to discuss this matter with your doctor, however, because each woman should be evaluated individually. If your pregnancy is complicated by medical, obstetrical, or other problems, you and your doctor must decide how long it is advisable for you to continue working. In general, a normal, healthy woman who has no complications may work throughout pregnancy if her job presents no greater potential hazards than those she faces in normal daily life. Special consideration should be given to occupational hazards such as heavy lifting, moving, other strenuous physical activities, or exposure to chemicals (gases, dusts, fumes), radiation, and infections. Tell your supervisor and the nurse or doctor at your place of work as soon as you know you are pregnant. You may need to be reassigned temporarily to another type of work that does not pose any danger to your pregnancy. It is even better to discuss the problem of occupational hazards when planning your baby. It is also important that you discuss any occupational hazards with the doctor or nurse who sees you for your prenatal care.
Traveling during your pregnancy is fine. Airplane, train, and bus travel are less tiring for long distances because you can get up and move around. When you travel in a car, it is very important to wear both a shoulder harness and a lap belt to protect you and the baby in case of an accident. Just fasten the belt as low as possible below the baby.
Sitting for long periods of time may cause leg cramps, discomfort, and tiredness, particularly late in the pregnancy. To keep from getting too tired during a car trip, stop about every 2 hours to stretch, walk about, and go to the bathroom.
Late in your pregnancy, it is a good idea to avoid long trips. By staying close to home, your baby can be born where you planned and where your medical history is known. If you must travel at this time, ask your doctor to refer you to a doctor in the area you will be visiting and ask for a copy of your medical chart to take with you.
Not smoking is one of the best gifts you can give your unborn child. Women who do not smoke are more likely to deliver a healthy baby of normal birth weight than women who do smoke. Smoking cigarettes during pregnancy is directly associated with low birth weight, premature births, miscarriage, and other complications.
While there are no safe levels of smoking, the fewer cigarettes the better. The risk of delivering a low birth weight baby may be reduced if a woman gives up smoking before the fourth month of pregnancy. Smoking during the time of breast feeding is also not advisable since the nicotine will be passed on to the baby through your breast milk.
Babies born to mothers who smoked while pregnant and after delivery have a higher incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (crib death).
Children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are more susceptible to respiratory problems in early childhood and may be slightly behind their age group in physical growth. If either parent continues to smoke after the baby is born, the child may have a greater risk of developing bronchitis or pneumonia.
Alcohol in any form can be harmful to a developing baby. This is recommended that all women of childbearing age take the following precautions:
Do not drink alcoholic beverages when you are pregnant or are considering pregnancy. In the crucial early period of a baby’s development often before pregnancy is recognized maternal consumption of alcohol increases the risk of abnormalities.
Be aware of the alcoholic content of food and drugs.
Researchers have found increased miscarriages and decreased birth weight associated with consumption of even 1 ounce or less of absolute (pure) alcohol per day. This is the amount of alcohol found in 2 standard drinks. Women who drink 3 ounces (the amount in 6 standard drinks) or more of absolute alcohol per day are at very high risk of delivering a child with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
Babies affected with FAS have severe physical and mental problems, including lifelong mental retardation, slow growth and development, small heads, and abnormal eye features.
One typical drink contains 1/2 ounce of absolute alcohol which is found in any of the following:
A 1 1/2 ounce shot of liquor (80 proof whiskey or vodka containing 40 percent alcohol)
A 3 ounce glass of fortified wine (sweet sherry, port, etc., containing up to 20 percent alcohol)
A 5 ounce glass of table wine (dry chablis, rose, burgundy, etc., containing up to 12 percent alcohol)
A can or bottle of beer (12 ounces of 4 1/2 percent alcohol)
You should also be aware that many cough medicines and nighttime cold remedies contain large amounts of alcohol. FAS can be entirely prevented if a pregnant women does not take alcohol in the form of alcoholic beverages or an unprescribed medicine.
The alcohol in beverages such as wine, beer, and liquor is a rich source of calories, but these calories do not contribute to good nutrition. Alcohol can depress your appetite, causing you to replace nutritious food in your diet with empty calories.
Caution should be exercised even after your baby is born if you plan to breast feed.
Medicines and Drugs
You should take only those medicines prescribed by your doctor. This is particularly important during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Medicines have different effects, some major, some minor, so be careful even if you think you might be pregnant.
Make a list of all the medicines and drugs you are taking prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, street drugs. Show it to your doctor on your first prenatal visit. Your doctor will determine whether you can continue taking these medications or whether you will need substitutes. Over-the-counter medicines, cold remedies, laxatives, nose sprays, aspirin, and aspirin substitutes should only be used under a doctor’s supervision.
Remember, whatever you take affects your baby. This includes tranquilizers, sleeping pills, barbiturates (downers), amphetamines (uppers), cocaine, narcotics, marijuana, hallucinogens, or other products. If you are using any of these substances, tell your doctor so you can get help. Babies can be born addicted to drugs. If the doctor does not know that the baby is going through a withdrawal period, the condition can be very serious or even fatal.
It is very good to take only safe herbal medicines.
There are differences of opinion about the dangers of caffeine during pregnancy. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to use as little as possible at this time. Many soft drinks, coffee, tea, cocoa, and chocolate contain caffeine. You can find out if a food or drink contains caffeine by checking the label or bottle cap. Ask your druggist or doctor if there is caffeine in any over-the-counter or prescription drug you are taking. Choose milk and fruit juices as beverages and caffeine-free (decaffeinated) coffee, tea, or soft drinks. If you are still getting a lot of caffeine (over six cups of coffee daily) ask about other ways to eliminate it from your diet.