A pregnancy has the potential to put considerable strain on the human body. Although the risks of anything going seriously wrong are very low, living a healthy lifestyle and getting the medical support you need as quickly as possible are the best ways to minimise the risk of complications occurring during your pregnancy. Make the following changes, and you will increase your chances of enjoying a problem-free pregnancy and labour.
1. Arrange an appointment with a doctor or midwife straight away
The moment you know for certain that you're pregnant, you should contact your GP to initiate your antenatal care programme. If you want to make sure that everything is progressing as it should with your pregnancy, it might be a good idea to arrange some private maternity scans too. As well as the standard early pregnancy and foetal anatomy scans, a private maternity hospital might offer combined screening tests, 3D scans and growth scans.
These checks could put your mind at rest and allow you to relax, or they might flag up potential problems before they become serious.
2. Maintain a healthy diet
The simplest way you can stay healthy throughout your pregnancy is to eat a healthy and well balanced diet. As part of your healthy eating regime, you should be consuming a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Stock up on carbohydrates for energy, but make sure you're eating wholegrain carbs rather than the white, processed variety.
It is also important to eat lots of protein and calcium, as these substances are crucial to your baby's development. Pulses and lean meat are great sources of protein, and you can get the calcium you need from dairy produce such as milk and cheese. However, try to ensure that no more than 20 percent of your daily calorie allowance comes from fat. You should require the same number of calories as any woman during the first two trimesters (around 2,000), but you might need an extra 200 or so per day during the last three months.
Omega-3 fatty acids should be an integral part of your diet from the moment you discover that you're pregnant. You will find this substance naturally in oily fish, so try to eat a portion of salmon, mackerel or trout at least three times per week. Fish is rich in protein and vitamin D, but it's the omega-3 fatty acids that are crucial, as they play an important role in the development of your baby's central nervous system.
3. Be aware of food safety
There are certain foods that present a risk to the health of your baby, so avoiding them wherever possible is usually the best course of action. Certain bacteria, such as listeria, have the potential to cause miscarriage. It is therefore best to avoid the likes of mouldy cheese, unpasteurised milk and pate. You should also ensure that all the meat you eat has been cooked thoroughly. Salmonella also poses a risk to unborn children, so avoid soft-boiled and raw eggs, undercooked poultry and raw meat wherever possible.
Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that has the potential to affect your unborn child, so ensure the meat and ready meals you eat are cooked thoroughly, wash and cook vegetables thoroughly before eating and wear gloves when attending to your garden or emptying a cat's litter tray.
4. Take regular exercise
Staying active throughout your pregnancy with regular and gentle exercise will develop your strength and stamina in readiness for an arduous labour. Exercise will also help to prevent back ache and depression if it is part of your daily routine. Brisk walking and swimming are probably the best forms of aerobic exercise you can take during pregnancy, but you might find that antenatal Pilates and yoga help you with breathing and building core-body strength.
It's also a good idea to perform pelvic floor exercises on a daily basis, as they will strengthen the key muscles in your abdomen in readiness for childbirth - and help you to recover more quickly afterwards.
5. Avoid alcohol and tobacco
Most health organisations around the world recommend complete abstention from alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol is believed to interfere with a baby's development during the early weeks of pregnancy, so it's probably best to stop drinking completely. Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) occur as a result of heavy drinking, and the associated effects can range from learning difficulties to physical deformities.
Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to cot death, prematurity and miscarriage, but it can also increase the risk of placental abruption, an ectopic pregnancy and more severe symptoms of morning sickness. It is therefore essential that you stop smoking - and remove yourself from smoke-filled environments - from the moment you discover that you're pregnant.
By making a few common-sense changes to your lifestyle, you can prepare your body for labour and protect your unborn child from unnecessary complications.