If you’re hoping, planning and praying to get pregnant, you need to start preparing for pregnancy physically. Prenatal fitness begins before you conceive. If you smoke, make every effort to stop. Tone and trim your body, and take a long, hard look at your eating habits. If it helps to tell yourself you’re doing it for the baby, fine. But what many mothers-to-be don’t realize is that, feeding a fetus puts a strain on their hearts and circulatory systems, and that good diet, nutrition and healthy exercise ensure their own well-being.
Confirm the pregnancy
The sooner you know you’re pregnant, the sooner you can start preparing for pregnancy. You’ll want to avoid any substances that might harm your baby – particularly alcohol, artificial sweeteners, caffeine and drugs of any kind (check with your doctor).
If you’re over 35, your doctor may recommend ultrasound or amniocentesis to make sure fetal development is normal. If you fail to conceive after trying for one year, it’s time to have a fertility evaluation – one that includes both you and your husband. With numerous methods of reversing infertility available today, there’s every reason to be optimistic.
Monitoring your weight
Like it or not, gaining weight is normal during pregnancy. The average healthy woman will gain about 25 pounds; less if she is petite, more if her frame is large. Women who get the right nourishment during pregnancy stand to gain more weight if they were thin to begin with, less if they were overweight (because of body reserves available to nourish the baby).
To prepare you for pregnancy, your doctor will give you specific and detailed information concerning what you should and shouldn’t eat during your pregnancy. The following are general guidelines.
How to eat during pregnancy
• Dairy products – a source of calcium, phosphorous, riboflavin and protein. Four servings a day, preferably two glasses of milk and two servings of cheese or low-fat yogurt.
• Meat products – provide protein and nutrients especially important during the last trimester. Six to eight servings (6 to 8 ounces) daily of fish, poultry or lean meat – or substitutes, such as dried beans or peanut butter.
• Grains and starchy vegetables – Choose nutritionally dense foods (whole grains, whole-grain crackers or cereals, brown rice, baked potatoes) rather than those made with refined flours and sugar. Six to eight servings daily.
• Other vegetables – Select those that are dark green and leafy, and some that are deep yellow (carrots, tomatoes, squash, sweet potatoes). Fresh is best; eat some cooked, some raw.
• Fruit – Choose fresh whole fruit (apples, bananas, oranges, fruit in season). Two to three servings daily, including 1/2 cup juice.
• Fat – Some fat in your diet is necessary to aid the absorption of essential nutrients and calcium. Sources should be margarine, oils, salad dressings and nuts rather than rich desserts, fried foods and snack foods.
• Vitamins and minerals – Because it is difficult to get all the iron you need from food alone, your doctor probably will prescribe a vitamin and mineral supplement.
Exercise during pregnancy
Your grandmother may have avoided all but the most necessary exertion during her pregnancy – and as a result, had a more difficult labor and a longer recovery. On the other hand, it’s probably not wise for you to run a marathon in your eighth month. The added weight of pregnancy can put a strain on your circulatory system, and can throw you off balance. A rule of thumb: As your due date approaches, reduce your levels of strenuous exercise.
Many health and fitness centers offer exercise programs tailored to the needs of pregnant women. An added bonus is the opportunity to meet others who share your fascination with the experience of becoming a mom.
Lamaze classes are also an excellent way to prepare for pregnancy – both mentally and physically. Don’t underestimate the benefits of active exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. To name a few: control of excess weight gain; improved appearance and posture; less water retention; improved self-image and mental outlook; increased energy; tension relief; improved sleep.
The basic guidelines for pregnancy/postpartum exercise include:
• Exercise regularly (three times a week) rather than intermittently, and avoid competitive activities.
• Don’t exercise if you don’t feel well or if the weather is hot and humid.
• Begin slowly and gradually increase the level of physical activity.
• Avoid jumping and bouncing; exercise on a wood, carpeted or padded flooring for sure footing and to reduce shock.
• Spend at least five minutes warming up muscles prior to exercise and five minutes cooling down (slow walking and gentle stretching).
• Watch your heart rate, and make sure it doesn’t go beyond limits set by your doctor.
• Rise gradually after sitting/lying-down exercises to avoid a sudden drop in blood pressure.
• Drink plenty of liquids before, during and after strenuous activity to prevent dehydration.
• Stop exercising and consult your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms: breathlessness, chest pains, dizziness, difficulty walking, uterine contractions, decreased fetal activity, vaginal bleeding or leakage of amniotic fluid.
Expect the benefits of good nutrition and regular exercise to extend into the postpartum weeks, when hormone-triggered emotions run high.
But if you feel overwhelmed, consult your doctor, and consider getting whatever help you need – paid or otherwise – that will enable you to prepare for pregnancy and savor the precious new little being you’ve brought into the world.