Audra Meadows, MD, MPH, an obstetrician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, helps patients optimize their health before, during and after pregnancy. Here are 12 tips from Dr. Meadows to help you increase your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and birth.

  1. Eat healthy food.
    Eating healthy foods is especially important for pregnant women. Your baby needs nutrients to grow healthy and strong while in the womb. Eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, calcium-rich foods, and foods low in saturated fat.
  2. Daily use of prenatal vitamins.
    Taking a daily prenatal multivitamin will ensure you and your baby get the right amount of key nutrients during pregnancy. These include folic acid, iron and calcium.
  3. Stay hydrated.
    A pregnant woman’s body needs more water than before pregnancy. Aim for eight or more glasses each day.
  4. Get a prenatal checkup.
    Women should receive regular prenatal care from a health care provider. Mothers who do not receive regular prenatal care are more likely to give birth to babies with low birth weight or other complications. Consider prenatal group therapy if possible.
  5. Avoid certain foods.
    There are certain foods that women should avoid during pregnancy. Do not eat:

Raw or rare meat
Liver, sushi, raw eggs (and mayonnaise)
Soft cheese (feta, brie)
Unpasteurized milk
Raw and unpasteurized animal products can cause food poisoning. Some fish, even when cooked, are high in mercury, which can be harmful to growing children.

  1. Do not drink alcohol.
    Do not drink alcohol before pregnancy or during breastfeeding. Alcohol consumption increases the risk of having a child with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). FASD causes facial abnormalities, severe learning disabilities, and behavioral problems.

Alcohol affects the health of the baby in the early stages of pregnancy, before the woman knows she is pregnant. Therefore, women who are likely to become pregnant should not drink alcohol.

  1. Do not smoke.
    Smoking is bad for you and your unborn baby. This increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), premature birth, miscarriage, and other adverse outcomes.
  2. Move.
    Exercising or being active in some other way every day can help you stay healthy during pregnancy. Ask your doctor how much physical activity is appropriate.
  3. Vaccination against flu.
    The flu can make pregnant women very sick and increase the risk of complications for your baby. The flu vaccine can help protect you from serious illness and protect your baby after birth. Ask your doctor about getting a flu shot.
  4. Get enough sleep.
    Getting enough sleep (7-9 hours) is important for you and your baby. Try sleeping on your left side to improve blood flow.
  5. Reduce stress.
    Reducing stress plays an important role in improving fertility. Pregnant women should avoid stressful situations as much as possible. Enlist loved ones to help you cope with the stresses of life.
  6. Plan the right time to get pregnant.
    “If you choose to get pregnant when you know you’re at your healthiest, it increases your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and giving birth,” Dr. Meadows said.

This means that women should not only make sure they are healthy before getting pregnant, but also consider their age before getting pregnant. Mothers who have children at a young age (under 16) or late (over 40) are at risk of premature birth. Also, women who get pregnant again too soon (less than 18 months between births) are more likely to give birth prematurely.

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