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Staying healthy in pregnancy


Getting some exercise, eating well and keeping up with your antenatal appointments will help you to have a healthy pregnancy.

You should contact a midwife as soon as you find out you're pregnant. 

Your midwife, and sometimes a doctor, will talk to you about your health, and the health of your baby. This will help you make plans about where and how you would like to have your baby. They will also talk to about ways you can keep fit and healthy during your pregnancy. This will include things like:

  • stopping smoking
  • stopping drinking alcohol
  • eating a healthy,balanced diet
  • take folic acid every day for the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy
  • take 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day throughout your pregnancy
  • try to stay active and fit 

 Sign up for start for life updates and get NHS trusted advice and support on your pregnancy, baby, and parenting. They are tailored to your stage of pregnancy, or your child's age.

From preparing for labour, feeding your baby, choosing childcare and getting the benefits you're entitled to - it's all in the emails!

Smoking

Stopping smoking can be difficult, but if you are pregnant it is one of the most important things you can do to improve your baby's health, growth and development. It is also the single most important thing that you can do to improve your own long term health. 

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 cannot get enough oxygen, this affects their development. You can find out more at  NHS advice on stopping smoking in pregnancy.

Your midwife will talk to you about smoking as part of your pregnancy care. For support to stop smoking visit our Smoking in pregnancy page.

Alcohol

If you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant you should not drink alcohol. Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to your baby, with the more you drink, the greater the risk. When you drink, alcohol passes from your blood through to your baby, and this can seriously affect its development. 

You should give up alcohol if you know you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant.

Find out more at NHS - drinking alcohol while pregnant

Eating healthily

When you are pregnant it is important that you look after yourself and your baby by eating healthily, it is not a time to restrict your diet or lose weight.

What you eat impacts on how you think and feel. Eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and fewer foods high in fat, sugar and salt will help you have a healthy mind and body, and help your baby to grow and develop their immune system. You don't need to 'eat for two'. Eating a small amount more (vegetables, lean protein and whole grains) each day in the second half of your pregnancy is all you need. 

A healthy diet will include:

  • eat a rainbow - remember to include colourful veggies
  • protein - eat a source of protein for every meal/snack - these include meat, fish, poultry, tofu, legumes (eg beans and pulse). Try to eat two portions of fish each week, one of which should be oily fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel.
  • nuts and seeds - a small portion and choose unsalted 
  • bread, wraps, pasta, rice, noodles, oats - choose whole grain where possible
  • dairy products and dairy alternatives

You should avoid some foods, including:

  • deli meats, soft cheese, pate, smoked salmon, uncooked seafood, pre-cooked prawns and sushi and soft-serve ice cream - these may contain listeria, a harmful bacteria
  • raw or under cooked eggs - these may cause salmonella (food poisoning)
  • fish that contains mercury, such as swordfish, shark or fresh tuna

You should also restrict how much of the following you have:

  • avoid having more than two portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, trout, mackerel and herring, because it can contain pollutants (toxins)
  • caffeine - one to two cups of coffee or three cups of tea per day

You can eat a healthier diet by making some simple food swaps, such as swapping:

  • ice cream for yoghurt
  • soft drinks (like cola) to still or sparkling water
  • crisps for popcorn or rice cakes with peanut butter or cream cheese
  • white bread, rice and pasta for whole grain 
  • caffeinated drinks for decaffeinated

Tip: Add an extra handful of vegetables when cooking and try baking or grilling food instead of frying.

More information about being healthy during pregnancy

Keeping active 

The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for your body to adapt to the changes. It will also help you to cope with labour. Exercise is not dangerous for your baby, and there is evidence that active women are less likely to experience problems in later pregnancy and labour. 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.

More information about keeping active during pregnancy

Vitamins

  • Folic acid - this is one of the B vitamins and helps to reduce the risk of your baby developing neural tube defects (abnormalities of the skull or backbone such as spina bifida). It can be found in broccoli, green leafy vegetables, granary bread, beans and pulses. You will also need to take folic acid supplements (400mcg) every day.
  • Vitamin D - you get vitamin D from summer sunlight, but it is common in the UK for people to have low levels of vitamin D, this is why you should take a daily dose (10mcg) when pregnant or breastfeeding. This can improve your baby's growth during their first year of life.
  • Calcium - you should eat three servings of calcium rich foods such as leafy green vegetables, milk, yoghurt, cheese, sardines
  • Vitamin C - oranges/orange juice, red/green peppers, strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, brussel sprouts
  • Iron - lean meat, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, nuts, lentils, beans, fortified cereals. You should have 27 mg of iron each day. 

Your midwife will advise you to take a pregnancy multivitamin. You can find out  more about vitamins in pregnancy at  Healthy Eating and Vitamin Supplements in Pregnancy

If you are more than 10 weeks pregnant you could get free vitamins through the Healthy Start scheme.

Screening

You'll have a number of antenatal appointments during your pregnancy, and you'll see a midwife or sometimes an obstetrician (doctor specialising in pregnancy). There are different screening tests you can have during your pregnancy. All tests are optional and will be discussed in your booking appointment. The screening tests you will be offered are:

Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia

Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia are inherited blood disorders which can pass onto your baby. Your midwife will offer a screening test to see if you are a carrier, ideally before you are 10 weeks pregnant by your midwife. For more information visit NHS: screening for sickle cell and thalassaemia.

Screening for infectious diseases

It is recommended that you have a blood test for three infectious diseases: hepatitis B, HIV and syphilis during your pregnancy. This blood test will be offered before you are 10 weeks pregnant. This is so treatment can be started early. If you know you have any of these infectious diseases you must let your midwife know. More information can be found on NHS: screening for infectious diseases.

20 week screening scan

This scan is done between 18 and 21 weeks and is offered to everyone. It is a detailed scan checking the physical development of your baby and where your placenta is. It looks at your baby's bones, heart, brain, spinal cord, face, kidneys and abdomen. The person doing the scan will also look for 11 specific conditions. For more information visit NHS: anomaly scan.

Combined screening for Down's syndrome, Edward's syndrome and Patau's syndrome

This is measurements taken at a scan and a blood test. It is offered to everyone between 10 and 14 weeks of pregnancy. Downs syndrome is also called trisomy 21 or T21. Edwards syndrome is also called trisomy 18 or T18. Patau's syndrome is also called trisomy 13 or T13. If the test shows that your baby has an increased chance of having one of these conditions you will be offered further screening. For more information visit NHS: screening for Down's, Edwards' and Patau's syndromes.

More information about screening

Sexual health

Encouraging good sexual health during pregnancy is just as important, if not more so, than at any other time. All pregnant women are offered screening. See our Sexual health page for more information.

Vaccination

From 16 weeks, you will be offered the Whooping cough vaccination. The best time to have this vaccine is after your scan, up to 32 weeks. But if for any reason you miss the vaccine, you can still have it up until you go into labour. This maximizes the protection to the baby in the early weeks after birth.

See the NHS - your antenatal appointments page for more information.

Pregnant women are offered the flu vaccine at any point during the pregnancy (seasonal) which will protect both mother and baby

Domestic abuse

There is an increased risk of domestic abuse to mothers during pregnancy. If you need help and support, see our domestic abuse information.

Pregnancy and post-birth wellbeing plan

The Wellbeing Plan is a two-page plan, that helps you start thinking about how you feel and what support you might need in your pregnancy and after the birth.

BabyBuddy

Baby Buddy is a free app that guides you through pregnancy, birth, parenting and beyond. The app has been designed with parents and professionals to help you give your baby the best start in life and support your health and wellbeing. Find out more on our Baby Buddy page.

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