The phrase “Staying healthy during pregnancy” presumes that you already are looking after yourself before you become pregnant! A woman who is healthy at the start of her pregnancy is likely to remain so throughout, provided she understands what is going on and applies her natural common sense to the three important aspects of pregnancy.
- Rest, Work and Exercise
- Food, Drink and Smoking
- Proper Medical Care.
REST, WORK AND EXERCISE
In a nutshell, the soundest advice is to rest when you feel tired and take regular simple exercise when you do not! This sounds simple and reasonable but, in practice, many women find it hard and expect to be able to do all the things they normally do in addition to being pregnant. This is often possible in the first thirty weeks or so of pregnancy, but it is important to recognize that pregnancy is an extra strain and that the carrying out of a normal routine may make the mother-to-be very tired.
If you feel tired, do not grit your teeth and struggle on; stop and take a rest. It is not possible to lay down hard-and-fast rules about the amount of rest to be taken in pregnancy because different women will need different amounts. If the simple ‘rest when you are tired’ maxim is applied, you will feel much better than if you try to soldier on. The basis of rest must be a good eight hours’ sleep every night.
Thereafter, the amount of rest can be regulated according to how each individual feels. A rest in the afternoon is often beneficial, especially in late pregnancy, but it is not necessary for the woman who does not feel tired without it. A woman’s work is never done, we say, and this applies to pregnant women especially. It is, however, important to remember that the pregnant woman may not be able to do all the work she would normally do or, indeed, would like to do.
Strenuous physical work is unlikely to cause harm, but should not be carried out to excess. Again this simply means that you should stop when you start to feel tired. It is impossible to dictate the `best time for a mother-to-be who has a job to give it up; to some extent this is governed by the nature of the work, but more importantly by the feelings of the individual.
Some women work happily up to the day of delivery, while others are ready to take it easy from the seventh month. The woman with small children as well as husband and home to look after, may find it very difficult to reduce her workload during pregnancy, but she and the rest of the family will benefit considerably if she is able to avoid becoming unduly tired. A work-weary woman cannot feel her best, cannot look after the rest of the family as she would like to do and her pregnancy is likely to be a burden in every sense. Pregnancy is a family event and every member of the family should be aware of the need to give that extra bit of help with ordinary day-to-day chores. If too much work is undesirable, the same can be said of too little exercise.
Being fit before pregnancy is not enough. Keeping fit during pregnancy is equally important. Here, again, however, common sense must be used and exercise limited to what is enjoyable. Certainly it should not be pursued to the point of exhaustion. Within reason, practically any normal sporting activity can be followed during pregnancy but, for the average woman, a daily walk, a regular game of tennis, badminton or golf, or a session of swimming two or three times a week, will provide the necessary exercise.
In late pregnancy, walking may be the only exercise that can be carried out comfortably and it should be continued as long as it is enjoyable. Some complications of pregnancy call for restriction of physical activity, but normal pregnancy does so only within the limits of common sense.
Sex in Pregnancy
Many women experience a loss of sexual desire during pregnancy, while others enjoy lovemaking as much as ever. Some men find their pregnant wives very attractive, others do not. Whatever your reactions, pregnancy can be a time for strengthening your relationship by loving communication of both your needs and feelings. From a medical point of view, sexual intercourse can usually take place throughout much of a normal pregnancy without fear of harming either mother orbut intercourse should be avoided in early pregnancy if the woman has previously had an abortion or has bled at any time during the pregnancy.
Normal sexual relations can be resumed after twelve weeks, but if you are in doubt, ask your doctor’s opinion. As the uterus grows in size it will become increasingly uncomfortable for the woman if her partner lies on top of her.
Towards the find of pregnancy it is, therefore, more comfortable if the woman lies on her side with her husband lying behind her. Even in this position, deep penetration may be uncomfortable in late pregnancy. Sexual intercourse in the few days before the baby is due may sometimes cause labor to start, because semen contains substances which can cause the uterus to contract. No harm results when labor is started off in this way.
FOOD, DRINK AND SMOKING
Over the years pregnant women have been bombarded with advice as to what they should or should not eat or drink. Once again, common sense rules. Provided the diet is healthy and balanced before pregnancy, the mother-to-be need not alter it significantly during pregnancy. A normal balanced diet is one that contains carbohydrate (bread, potatoes, cereals, rice), fat (butter, margarine, milk, cream, cheese, cooking fat), protein (meat, fish, nuts, cheese, lentils, egg), roughage (green vegetables, bran) and fresh hair.
Many women eat more than usual during pregnancy and, not surprisingly, this causes them to become heavy with excess fat as well as with the weight of the child. One problem about overeating in pregnancy is that its effect may not become fully apparent until after the baby is born. Then the mother suddenly realizes that, in spite of having had the baby, she is very overweight. Losing weight by dieting can be uphill work.
A much wiser plan is to avoid over-eating during pregnancy, so that the total weight gain does not exceed 10-11 Kg (22-24 lbs). This makes it easy for the mother to get back to her pre-pregnancy weight within two or three months after the baby’s birth. Every pregnant woman knows that she should drink milk during pregnancy, but there is much conflicting advice on how much.
The strange thing is that people who advocate strict attention to not putting on too much weight are often the same people who prescribe two pints of milk per day! The truth is that two pints of milk, drunk in addition to a normal balanced diet, is guaranteed to increase anybody’s weight, pregnant or otherwise. The point about milk is that it contains calcium and calcium is needed in pregnancy for the formation of the baby’s bones and teeth. If the mother-to-be drinks an extra 250 ml (half pt) per day over and above whatever milk is taken in tea, coffee and cooked foods, this will be a perfectly adequate intake.
Apart from this small extra amount of milk, the pregnant woman can drink whatever she pleases, provided she remembers that sweet drinks are fattening. Alcohol, in moderation, is not harmful in pregnancy.
Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
Women who are addicted toor drugs, such as cannabis or heroin, should on no account become pregnant. If they do, they should seek medical advice at once because both alcohol and drugs in excess are harmful to the developing fetus and can cause congenital abnormality.
Even when the baby is normal in other respects it will have become addicted whilst in its mother’s womb and may suffer serious withdrawal symptoms shortly after birth. To see a tiny baby suffering like an adult addict, cut off from the supply of drugs, is very distressing. No woman should risk inflicting such a terrible experience on her child. Overcoming the addiction before becoming pregnant is the only safe and humane course of action.
Evidence that smoking in pregnancy is harmful to the baby is now overwhelming. Babies born to smokers are, on average, smaller than those whose mothers are non-smokers. There may be other harmful effects, but these are more difficult to measure for certain.
Women who smoke should try and stop before they become pregnant. If that is impossible, they should stop as soon as they become pregnant. The sooner they stop smoking or, at least, reduce the number of cigarettes, the less effect there will be on the baby. Pregnancy is, therefore, a good time to give up smoking. If it can be given up permanently the mother will live longer to enjoy not only her child but also her child’s child.
PROPER MEDICAL CARE
Pregnancy is a normal occurrence which could, theoretically, proceed without outside assistance. Unfortunately some complications and problems do arise and so medical care is essential. The first object of medical care is to ensure that the mother-to-be keeps as healthy as possible throughout the pregnancy and goes on to have an uncomplicated normal labor and a healthy baby.
The second object is to detect complications at as early a stage as possible and act quickly to prevent minor problems from becoming more serious. Doctors are sometimes accused of interfering unnecessarily, but they only do so when they believe that the mother and baby will benefit as a result. The fact that having a baby is such a safe and easy process nowadays is partly due to modern medical care.