Your health in pregnancy
What should you eat?
A healthy diet is very important if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Eating healthily during pregnancy will help your baby to develop and grow and will help to keep you fit and well. You don’t need to go on a special diet, but make sure that you eat a variety of different foods every day in order to get the right balance of nutrients that you and your baby need. You should also avoid certain foods.
You will probably find that you are more hungry than normal, but you don’t need to ‘eat for two’ – even if you are expecting twins or triplets. Have breakfast every day – this will help you to avoid snacking on foods that are high in fat and sugar. You may have to change the amounts of different foods that you eat, rather than cutting out all your favourites.
Foods to avoid
There are some foods that you should not eat when you are pregnant because they may make you ill or harm your baby.
You should avoid:
- Some types of cheese
- Raw or undercooked meat
- Liver products
- Supplements containing vitamin A
- Some types of fish
- Raw shellfish
- Unpasteurised milk
Vitamins and minerals
Eating a healthy, varied diet will help you to get all the vitamins and minerals you need while you are pregnant. There are some vitamins and minerals that are especially important:
- Folic acid
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
It’s best to get vitamins and minerals from the food you eat but when you are pregnant, you will need to take some supplements as well:
- 10 micrograms of vitamin D. During the summer months most people will usually get enough vitamin D from sunlight, so you may choose not to take a supplement over the summer months (late March/April to the end of September). Vitamin D and you.
- 400 micrograms of folic acid – ideally this should be taken from before you get pregnant until you are 12 weeks pregnant. Some women (see page 32) may need need to take a bigger dose that requires a prescription. Folic acid – one of life’s essentials.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, you may need to take a vitamin B12 supplement as well as other supplements. Talk to your doctor or midwife about this.
If you have a special or restricted diet, you may need additional supplements. Talk to your doctor or midwife about this.
Do not take vitamin A supplements, or any supplements containing vitamin A, as too much could harm your baby.
You can get supplements from pharmacies and supermarkets or your GP may be able to prescribe them for you. If you want to get your folic acid or vitamin D from a multivitamin tablet, make sure that the tablet does not contain vitamin A (or retinol).
Healthy Start vitamins for women contain the correct amount of folic acid and vitamin D and are free from the HSC without a prescription to pregnant women receiving Healthy Start vouchers. Ask your GP or pharmacist for advice if you are unsure.
Everyone over the age of five years should consider taking a supplement of 10 micrograms of Vitamin D every day. Between late March/April to the end of September, the majority of people aged five years and above will probably obtain sufficient vitamin D from sunlight when they are outdoors. So you might choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months.
If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.
Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to your baby, with the more you drink the greater the risk.
Caffeine is a stimulant found in Coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks, and some over the counter medications. During pregnancy caffeine clearance from the mother’s blood slows down significantly (WHO, 2015). This means that caffeine can then cross the placenta to reach the baby.
Results from numerous studies have shown that regularly having more than the recommended amount of caffeine (200mg) can increase the risk of your baby being born with a low birth weight. Consuming excess levels can even increase the chance of a miscarriage or stillbirth late in pregnancy (Cochrane systematic review, 2015).
Every cigarette you smoke harms your baby. Cigarettes restrict the essential oxygen supply to your baby. So their tiny heart has to beat harder every time you smoke. Cigarettes contain over 4,000 chemicals. Protecting your baby from tobacco smoke is one of the best things you can do to give your child a healthy start in life. You will be offered carbon monoxide testing at your booking appointment to assess the level of carbon monoxide to assist with the decision to quit smoking.
Support and advice on stopping smoking is available at www.want2stop.info or by texting QUIT to 70004 for SMS support (standard network charges apply). You will be offered referral to your local Smoking Cessation Midwife who will offer support.
If you stop smoking:
- You will have fewer complications in pregnancy.
- You are more likely to have a healthier pregnancy and a healthier baby.
- You will reduce the risk of stillbirth.
- Your baby will cope better with any birth complications.
- Your baby is less likely to be born too early and have to face the additional breathing, feeding and health problems which often go with being premature.
- Your baby is less likely to be born underweight and have a problem keeping warm. Babies of mothers who smoke are, on average, 200g (about 8oz) lighter than other babies. These babies may have problems during and after labour and are more prone to infection.
- You will reduce the risk of cot death.
It will also be better for your baby later in life. Children whose parents smoke are more likely to suffer from illnesses which need hospital treatment (such as asthma).
The sooner you stop, the better. But stopping even in the last few weeks of pregnancy will benefit you and your baby.
If your partner or anyone else who lives with you smokes, it can affect you and your baby both before and after birth. Secondhand smoke can cause low birth weight and cot death.
Advice on e-cigarettes
E-cigarettes are designed to look and feel like cigarettes.
The Public Health Agency recommends if you wish to stop smoking and are ready to do so you should use one of the free stop smoking services available across Northern Ireland. Find out more on e-cigarettes on the PHA website.
Pills. medicines and other drugs
Some medicines, including some common painkillers, can harm your baby’s health.
Keep taking your medication until you check with your doctor.
Always check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist before taking any medicine.
Make sure that your doctor, dentist or other health professional knows you are pregnant before they prescribe you anything or give you treatment.
Illegal drugs like cannabis, esctasy, cocaine and heroin can harm your baby. Contact Narcotics Anonymous on 030 0999 1212.
Herbal and homeopathic remedies and aromatherapy
Not all ‘natural’ remedies are safe in pregnancy.
The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain. It will also help you to cope with labour and to get back in shape after the birth.
Keep up your normal daily physical activity or exercise (sport, dancing or just walking to the shops and back) for as long as you feel comfortable. Don’t exhaust yourself and remember you may need to slow down as your pregnancy progresses or if your doctor advises you to. As a general rule, you should be able to hold a conversation as you exercise. If you become breathless as you talk, then you are probably exercising too strenuously.
If you were inactive before you were pregnant, don’t suddenly take up strenuous exercise. If you start an aerobic exercise programme, begin with no more than 15 minutes continuous exercise, three times per week. Increase this gradually to a maximum of 30 minutes sessions, four times a week. Inform the instructor that you are pregnant.
Details of local leisure centres can be found on the Council websites.
Antrim and Newtownabbey
Causeway Coast and Glens
Mid and East Antrim
Pelvic floor exercises help to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, which are placed under great strain in pregnancy and childbirth.