Keeping well during pregnancy

Eating well

Eating a healthy, nutritious diet is especially important if you're pregnant, or planning a pregnancy. Your baby relies on you to provide the right balance of nutrients to help them grow and develop properly.

Despite the common myth, you do not need to 'eat for two' now you’re pregnant. Managing the portions you eat is a key part of eating a balanced diet. When it comes to eating well, try to focus on keeping it simple. Avoid eating packaged ultra-processed foods that have sugar and salt added. Instead, choose foods that are unprocessed or minimally processed, including:

  • fruit and vegetables
  • pulses, nuts and seeds
  • meat, fish and eggs
  • milk, cheese and yoghurt
  • foods such as potato, rice and pasta.

Most foods and drinks are safe to have during pregnancy cut it is also important to be aware of some foods and drinks you should avoid during pregnancy.

Exercise 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 get back into shape after the birth.

Keep up your normal daily physical activity or exercise (sport, running, yoga, dancing, or even walking to the shops and back) for as long as you feel comfortable.

Exercise is not dangerous for your baby. There is some evidence that those who exercise regularly are less likely to experience problems in later pregnancy and labour.

Exercise tips when you're pregnant

  • always warm up before exercising, and cool down afterwards
  • try to keep active on a daily basis – 30 minutes of walking each day can be enough, but if you cannot manage that, any amount is better than nothing
  • avoid any strenuous exercise in hot weather
  • drink plenty of water and other fluids
  • if you go to exercise classes, make sure your teacher is properly qualified and knows that you're pregnant, as well as how many weeks pregnant you are
  • you might like to try swimming because the water will support your increased weight. Some local swimming pools provide aqua-natal classes with qualified instructors
  • exercises that have a risk of falling, such as horse riding, downhill skiing, ice hockey, gymnastics and cycling, should only be done with caution. Falls carry a risk of damage to your baby.

Exercises to avoid in pregnancy

  • do not lie flat on your back for long periods, particularly after 16 weeks, because the weight of your bump presses on the main blood vessel bringing blood back to your heart and this can make you feel faint
  • do not take part in contact sports where there's a risk of being hit, such as kickboxing, judo or squash
  • do not go scuba diving, because the baby has no protection against decompression sickness and gas embolism (gas bubbles in the bloodstream)
  • do not exercise at heights over 2,500m above sea level – this is because you and your baby are at risk of altitude sickness.

Weight management

Weight gain in pregnancy varies greatly. Most pregnant people gain between 10kg and 12.5kg (22lb to 26lb), putting on most of the weight after week 20.

Much of the extra weight is due to your baby growing, but your body will also be storing fat, ready to make breast milk after your baby is born.

Putting on too much or too little weight can lead to health problems for you or your unborn baby.

Gaining too much weight

Putting on too much weight can affect your health and increase your blood pressure.

But pregnancy isn't the time to go on a diet, as it may harm the health of the unborn child.

It's important that you eat healthily. Gaining too much weight can increase your risk of complications.

These include:

  • gestational diabetes: too much glucose (sugar) in your blood during pregnancy can cause gestational diabetes, which increases your risk of having a large baby
  • pre-eclampsia: a rise in blood pressure can be the first sign of pre-eclampsia; although most cases are mild and cause no trouble, it can be serious.

Gaining too little weight

Gaining too little weight can cause problems such as premature birth and a baby with a low birth weight (less than 2.5kg or 5.5lb at birth).

It can also mean your body isn't storing enough fat.

Lack of weight gain can be related to your diet and weight before you become pregnant.

But some naturally slim women stay slim while they're pregnant and have healthy babies.

If you're concerned about your weight or any other aspect of your health while pregnant, ask your midwife for advice.

Alcohol in pregnancy

Most people stop drinking alcohol completely in when they know they are pregnant, because this is the safest thing for a developing baby. Alcohol passes from your blood through the placenta and to your baby. There is no known safe level for drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

How alcohol can harm your baby

Your baby's developing all the way through your pregnancy. Alcohol can be harmful at any stage.

Drinking alcohol:

  • damages your baby's developing cells which can affect how their brain and organs develop and how they look
  • makes it more likely you'll have a miscarriage, or your baby will be born early or underweight
  • can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Even small amounts of alcohol can cross over from your body into your baby. The exact level of alcohol exposure that can lead to harm is not known with certainty, but the more you drink, the greater the possible harm.

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)

If you drink while pregnant your baby could develop foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). This is a term used to describe a range of alcohol-related birth defects.

About 3 in every 100 children and young people in the UK have FASD, but it’s preventable by avoiding alcohol when pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

FASD may not always be detected at birth but can cause problems later in life, including:

  • problems with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and attention
  • learning and behavioural difficulties
  • experiencing difficulty in social interaction, personal care, making sense of the world, and staying safe
  • sensory difficulties such as being sensitive to, and distressed by, certain patterns of light, sound, or touch.

Support your partner

Dads and partners can support a healthy, alcohol-free pregnancy by:

  • not drinking alcohol around their partner
  • trying activities that don’t involve alcohol - you could go swimming or go for a walk
  • trying non-alcoholic alternatives such as mocktails, smoothies, and flavoured and fizzy water.

Drugs and medicines in pregnancy

Most medicines taken during pregnancy cross the placenta and reach the baby.

Before taking any medicine when you're pregnant, including painkillers, check with your pharmacist, GP or midwife.

When deciding whether to take a medicine during pregnancy, it's important to find out about the possible effects of that medicine on your baby.

This is the case both for medicines prescribed by a doctor and for medicines you buy from a pharmacy or shop.

If you're trying for a baby or are already pregnant, it's important to always:

  • check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist before taking any prescribed medicines or medicines that you have bought
  • make sure your doctor, dentist or another healthcare professional knows you're pregnant before they prescribe anything or give you treatment
  • talk to your doctor immediately if you take regular medicine, ideally before you start trying for a baby or as soon as you find out you're pregnant.

To find out more about which medicines are safe and which to avoid, find out more on the NHS Choices website.

Smoking in pregnancy

You already know that smoking is bad for your health. We're not here to lecture you - we're here to help you give up. Giving up smoking can be hard, but if you're pregnant, now is definitely the time to quit.

How does smoking affect my unborn baby?

It's hard to imagine when you can't see your baby, but everything you breathe in passes through to your baby (including secondhand smoke). Each cigarette contains more than 4,000 chemicals.

When you smoke, carbon monoxide and other harmful toxins travel from your lungs, into your bloodstream, through your placenta and into your baby's body. When this happens, your baby struggles for oxygen. When your baby can't get enough oxygen, this affects their development.

It's never too late to quit

Whether you're pregnant or trying to have a baby, the sooner you quit, the better.

There is lots of help available, so you don't have to do this alone. Your local stop smoking service offers free, one-to-one advice, support and encouragement to help you stop smoking. You can also talk to your GP or midwife – they can talk you through the best treatments available.

Benefits of giving up

When you give up, the harmful gases (like carbon monoxide) and other chemicals will soon clear from your body.
Reasons to stop smoking include:

  • You're doing the best thing for your baby's health
  • The chances of having a miscarriage or still birth are reduced
  • You'll minimise the risk of cot death (SIDS)
  • Your baby is less likely to be born early (premature) or underweight

Stopping smoking will help your baby in later life – some people suffer from asthma and other serious illnesses if their mother smoked while pregnant.

Help and support

Remember, you don't have to do this alone. Talk to your GP, midwife or pharmacist for help and advice. You can also contact the Specialist Midwife Smoking Cessation on 07815 705737 or Kent Stop
Smoking Services on Freephone 0300 1231220.

Mental health and well-being

Emotional highs and lows are natural and normal when you’re pregnant. Most people have good mental health during their pregnancy, though some find their mental health suffers in pregnancy and they need extra support.

You can help yourself stay mentally well while pregnant and preparing for the birth of your baby.

It’s normal to experience worries, you might worry about:

  • how you'll cope
  • whether you'll be a good enough parent
  • labour and giving birth
  • feeling alone or unsupported

Try to share how you’re feeling with someone you trust, and talk about the things that are worrying you.

If you are starting to feel anxious or low, or you are having unusual thoughts or feelings, please talk to your midwife or obstetrician as soon as possible. Please do not be frightened to ask for help - mental health problems in pregnancy are common and treatable. The earlier you get help and support the better for you and your baby’s well-being.

Mental health checks

All pregnant people have physical checks at antenatal appointments. You will also be asked about your emotional wellbeing at routine antenatal appointments. Sometimes you will be asked to complete a short questionnaire to help your midwife or obstetrician decide the best service or treatment for you.

If you need extra support because of your mental health you may be offered more antenatal appointments and/or you may also receive care from a specialist mental health service.

Maintaining your mental health's important for you and your baby.

Try to:

  • talk to people about how you’re feeling - it’s okay to say you’re finding things hard, don’t be afraid to ask for help
  • set realistic goals and take small steps that allow you to note progress along the way
  • get a good night’s sleep and eat regular healthy meals - everyone feels better when they’re well rested and eating well
  • be active - being outside and active's great for your mental health

Dealing with mental illness

As many as 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men are affected by mental ill health during pregnancy, and the year after birth.

It's very important for you and your baby that you seek help. There's treatment and support available, and the sooner you get help, the sooner you’ll start to feel like yourself again.

If you've had a previous traumatic birth

It might also be helpful to let your midwife or obstetrician know if you had a difficult or traumatic birth previously and are worried about giving birth again.

They can ensure you get the right support during and after your pregnancy.

Pregnancy and disability

Having a baby when you have a disability shouldn’t stop you from having a great pregnancy and wonderful experience of being a new parent, but it might come with a few more things to think about. However, pregnancy and parenthood can sometimes be difficult for anyone to deal with, regardless of disability, so we are here to support you and find solutions for any challenges you face.

Planning for birth as a disabled parent

You should be able to birth how you wish to and though it might be recommended that you see a consultant, they will work with you and your wishes to get you the birth that you want. Staying as active as you can during birth may be important to you so your team will help you work on a plan that respects your needs, abilities and wishes to make labour as comfortable as possible. We will work together to suggest alternative birthing positions that will work with your body to enable your baby to descend in a manner that works with your physiology. However, if you wish to have a caesarean, we will discuss this with you to ensure all your wishes are respected and find the right pathway for you.

Where necessary, we will work with other teams involved in your care to ensure we have a rich understanding of your needs and how your disability may affect your pregnancy and labour. This enables us to make sure all your needs are met and we are proactive about whatever the postnatal period may bring as you recover from birth.

Communication disabilities

We will strive to meet your communication needs at every appointment, whatever these look like. We have access to BSL interpreters and, if you lip read, please let us know what works best for you so that we can work together to make arrangements around the wearing of masks.

For more practical information and peer support for disabled parents, head to the Disabled Parent website.