how to have a healthy pregnancy

a mum-to-be with a healthy pregnancy bump

When you discover you're having a baby, it's natural to want to take care of yourself and give your little one the best start in life. You don't need to make big changes, but it's agreed these lifestyle tweaks are best for mums-to-be to make.

staying fit and healthy

Try to stay active and keep up your normal daily activities: the more fit and healthy you feel during pregnancy, the easier it will be to cope with your growing bump. Moderate exercise isn't dangerous for your baby and can help prepare your body for birth. Just avoid contact sports where you might get hit in the stomach – steer clear of kickboxing, squash or football.

eating well

You don’t need to follow a particular diet when you’re pregnant, but it’s a good idea to eat balanced meals and healthy snacks as your appetite increases and your bump begins to grow. Make sure to include food from all groups, including five portions of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and dairy so that you are getting all the vitamins and nutrients you need. It can sometimes be difficult to get enough vitamin D, so you may want to try a supplement.

taking folic acid

There's one supplement that doctors say is essential: folic acid. It helps to ensure that your baby's nervous system develops correctly, preventing conditions such as spina bifida. Just take a 400 microgram supplement every day from when you start trying to conceive until you're at least 12 weeks pregnant. If you didn't take folic acid before you discovered you were pregnant, don't worry: just start as soon as you can.

avoiding some foods

Some foods are off the menu: they may make you ill or can even harm your growing baby. They include:

  • some soft and mould-ripened cheeses and pate
  • raw or partially cooked eggs
  • raw, undercooked or cold-cured meats, liver and game
  • some fish including shark, swordfish, marlin
  • be extra careful with shellfish, sushi and limit the amount of tuna
  • unpasteurised dairy products
  • For a full list of what to avoid eating during pregnancy, take a look at the food advice at the NHS website.

reducing your caffeine intake

You don't need to cut out caffeine completely, but it's best to drink it in moderation. Doctors recommend limiting yourself to 200mg a day – that's about two mugs of instant or a couple of cans of cola. Try to replace any extra caffeinated drinks with decaf, fruit juice or mineral water. And if you get a sniffle, check the label of your cold and flu remedy: some of these contain caffeine too.

giving up alcohol

Experts aren't sure how much alcohol is safe when you're pregnant, so the advice is to cut it out altogether once you learn you're expecting. Alcohol passes straight from your blood to your baby, who can't process it: too much can seriously affect their development. Many women go off the taste of alcohol in pregnancy anyway, but if you are finding it difficult to cut down, your midwife or doctor will be able to offer help and support.

quitting smoking

If you're a smoker, the thought of quitting might be hard, but it’s one of the best things you can do if you’re pregnant. Tobacco smoke contains chemicals which can harm your baby's development and smoking restricts their oxygen supply in the womb. Cutting out the cigarettes reduces the risks of complications, helps to ensure a healthy birth weight and reduces the chance of cot death in their early months. For free support and advice on giving up, call the NHS helpline on 0800 169 9169.