How to eat right, exercise safely, eliminate stress, and protect your growing baby during pregnancy.

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Pregnancy Exercise

Exercise is not only safe during most pregnancies, but it also may ease many pregnancy discomforts and possibly shorten your labor and delivery and recovery time.

The Do’s of Pregnancy Exercise

  • Exercise moderately for at least 30 minutes on most days, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends
  • Stick with low-impact exercises such as walking, yoga, and swimming.

  • Stay cool and drink plenty of water. Dehydration can lead to overheating, which is dangerous for the fetus. Drink before, during, and after exercise.

  • Wear workout clothes that don’t constrict your rib cage as you breathe.

  • Stretch before and after exercise. Prenatal yoga is a great way to stay flexible and strong.

  • Build your strength. Focus on your back, shoulders, pectorals (chest), and biceps so they’ll keep you strong enough to pick up and hold your baby as often as he needs you to.

  • Do Kegel exercises daily to help prevent urinary incontinence. They’re simple: Repeatedly contract and relax your pelvic floor muscles as though you’re stopping and starting the flow of urine.

The Don'ts of Pregnancy Exercise

  • Don’t work out to the point of exhaustion. Make sure you can still carry on a conversation while you’re exercising.
  • Don’t keep exercising if you feel dizzy or lightheaded.

  • Don’t get overheated. Avoid working out in hot environments; consider early-morning or evening walks or go to an air-conditioned gym.

  • Don’t lift heavy weights, lie on your stomach or back, or use machines that require wearing a belt around your waist.

  • Don’t tackle high-impact sports or activities in which you risk falling or injuring your abdomen, such as in-line skating, soccer, downhill skiing, and horseback riding.

  • Don’t exercise if you experience any of the following: an incompetent cervix; pregnancy with multiple risk factors for premature labor; persistent second- or third- trimester bleeding; placenta previa past 26 weeks; premature labor; ruptured membranes; preeclampsia.

Staying Healthy

Expert prenatal care from a doctor or licensed midwife sets the stage for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

The Do’s of Pregnancy Health

  • Get a checkup as soon as you know you are pregnant. Regular weight, blood pressure, and fetal heart-rate checks, as well as other monitoring, will help detect any medical complications early.
  • Take care of your teeth; mouth infections are linked to prematurity. Get X-rays before you conceive.

  • Take it easy at work. If you’re on your feet all day, look for ways to sit down as often as possible. Prolonged standing may cause pregnancy complications.

  • Seek treatment for infections, asthma, lupus, thyroid disease, hypertension, and other conditions you may have. Left untreated, these may pose risks to your fetus.

  • Bring your partner to your appointments so he can stay informed and support you.

  • Call your doctor or midwife immediately if you experience any of the following: calf pain or swelling; chest pain; decreased fetal movement; vaginal bleeding; labored breathing without exertion; dizziness; persistent headache; leakage of amniotic fluid; muscle weakness; uterine contractions, abdominal pain, or increased pelvic pressure.

The Don'ts of Pregnancy Health

  • Don’t take any medication—prescription, over-the-counter or herbal—without checking with your doctor or midwife.
  • Don’t take aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) unless they’re prescribed by your doctor, as they may cause fetal bleeding. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is usually OK, but ask your doctor.

  • Don’t stop taking medication for a chronic condition such as asthma without checking with your doctor.

  • Don’t smoke or use any type of illicit drugs.

  • Don’t forget to wear gloves when changing the cat litter or gardening. Cat feces in litter or soil may transmit toxoplasmosis, which can cause neurological problems in your baby.

  • Don’t sit in hot tubs or saunas. Hot environments can raise your body temperature and interfere with fetal brain development.

  • Don’t handle oil-based paints or materials containing lead or mercury. Avoid chemical solvents, oven-cleaning products and dry-cleaning chemicals.

Mental Health During Pregnancy

Research suggests that stress—both chronic (from lack of money or marital conflict, for example) and sudden or acute stress (from an accident or loss of a job, say)—can contribute to premature birth, low birth weight, and problems with fetal development. Signs that your stress level is too high include constant fatigue and worry, feeling out of control, and being overactive.

The Do’s of Pregnancy Mental Health

  • Learn relaxation techniques such as visualization and meditation. Spend 20 minutes a day breathing slowly and deeply, progressively relaxing all the muscles in your body.
  • Get enough sleep. Limit food and drink after 6 p.m. to cut down on nighttime bathroom trips. Go to bed earlier, sleep later, or take a nap in the afternoon, if you can. A body pillow may help you sleep better.

  • Lean on friends and family members as much as you need to. Social support is a great antidote to stress.

  • See your doctor if stress interferes with your functioning.

The Don'ts of Pregnancy Mental Health

  • Don’t take on unnecessary stress such as changing jobs or buying a house, if at all possible.
  • Don’t obsess about your weight. Gaining 25 to 35 pounds if you begin pregnancy at a normal weight is healthy for you and your baby. A pregnancy weight gain of 28 to 40 pounds if you are underweight, or 15 to 25 if you are overweight, is generally considered safe.

  • Don’t worry too much about the pain of labor. Today, you have more natural and pharmaceutical pain-relief options than ever. Plus, millions of women make it through labor each year. If they can do it, so can you.

  • Don’t forget that this is one of the most exciting and rewarding times of your life, one that you will remember always. Enjoy!