Pregnancy FAQ

Exercise During Pregnancy

What are some of the benefits of exercise during pregnancy?

Becoming active and exercising at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week can benefit your health during pregnancy in the following ways:

  • Helps reduce backaches, constipation, bloating, and swelling
  • May help prevent or treat gestational diabetes
  • Increases your energy
  • Improves your mood
  • Improves your posture
  • Promotes muscle tone, strength, and endurance
  • Helps you sleep better

Regular activity also helps keep you fit during pregnancy and may improve your ability to cope with labor. This will make it easier for you to get back in shape after the baby is born.

What changes occur in the body during pregnancy that can affect my exercise routine?

The hormones produced during pregnancy cause the ligaments that support your joints to become relaxed. This makes the joints more mobile and more at risk of injury. The extra weight in the front of your body during pregnancy shifts your center of gravity and places stress on joints and muscles, especially those in the pelvis and lower back. This can make you less stable, cause back pain, and make you more likely to lose your balance and fall, especially in later pregnancy. The extra weight you are carrying will make your body work harder than before you were pregnant.

What forms of exercise are safe during pregnancy?

Certain sports are safe during pregnancy, even for beginners:

  • Walking is a good exercise for anyone.
  • Swimming is great for your body because it works so many muscles.
  • Cycling provides a good aerobic workout.
  • Aerobics is a good way to keep your heart and lungs strong.
  • If you were a runner before you became pregnant, you often can keep running during pregnancy, although you may have to modify your routine.

What forms of exercise should be avoided?

In general, activities in which there is a high risk of falling, such as gymnastics, water skiing, and horseback riding, should be avoided. Some racquet sports also increase the risk of falling because of your changing balance. Other sports to avoid include the following:

  • Downhill snow skiing—Your change in balance may put you at greater risk of injuries and falls. Also, you may be at risk of altitude sickness, an illness caused by breathing air that contains less oxygen.
  • Contact sports, such as hockey, basketball, and soccer—These sports can result in harm to you and your baby.
  • Scuba diving—Scuba diving can put your baby at risk of decompression sickness, a serious illness that results from changes in the pressure surrounding the body.

What should I be aware of when exercising during pregnancy?

The changes in your body can make certain positions and activities risky for you and your baby. While exercising, try to avoid activities that call for jumping, jarring motions, or quick changes in direction that may strain your joints and cause injury.

There are some risks from becoming overheated during pregnancy. This may cause loss of fluids and lead to dehydration and problems during pregnancy.

When you exercise, follow these general guidelines for a safe and healthy exercise program:

  • After the first trimester of pregnancy, avoid doing any exercises on your back.
  • If it has been some time since you have exercised, start slowly. Begin with as little as 5 minutes of exercise a day and add 5 minutes each week until you can stay active for 30 minutes a day.
  • Avoid brisk exercise in hot, humid weather or when you have a fever.
  • Wear comfortable clothing that will help you to remain cool.
  • Wear a bra that fits well and gives lots of support to help protect your breasts.
  • Drink plenty of water to help keep you from overheating and dehydrating.
  • Make sure you consume the daily extra calories you need during pregnancy.

What are the warning signs that I should stop exercising?

Stop exercising and call your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Increased shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Uterine contractions
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Fluid leaking from the vagina

How can I get back into exercising after the baby is born?

Walking is a good way to get back into exercising. Brisk walks several times a week will prepare you for more strenuous exercise when you feel up to it. Walking has the added advantage of getting both you and the baby out of the house for exercise and fresh air. As you feel stronger, consider more vigorous exercise.

Nutrition During Pregnancy

What is listeriosis and how can it affect my pregnancy?

Listeriosis is a type of food-borne illness caused by bacteria. Pregnant women are 13 times more likely to get listeriosis than the general population. Listeriosis can cause mild, flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, and diarrhea, but it also may not cause any symptoms. Listeriosis can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature delivery. Antibiotics can be given to treat the infection and to protect your unborn baby. To help prevent listeriosis, avoid eating the following foods during pregnancy:

  • Unpasteurized milk and foods made with unpasteurized milk
  • Hot dogs, luncheon meats, and cold cuts unless they are heated until steaming hot just before serving
  • Refrigerated pate and meat spreads
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood
  • Raw and undercooked seafood, eggs, and meat

How can I plan healthy meals during pregnancy?

Planning healthy meals during pregnancy is not hard. The United States Department of Agriculture has made it easier by creating www.choosemyplate.gov. This web site helps everyone from dieters and children to pregnant women learn how to make healthy food choices at each mealtime.

How does MyPlate work?

With MyPlate, you can get a personalized nutrition and physical activity plan by using the “SuperTracker” program. This program is based on five food groups and shows you the amounts that you need to eat each day from each group during each trimester of pregnancy. The amounts are calculated according to your height, prepregnancy weight, due date, and how much you exercise during the week. The amounts of food are given in standard sizes that most people are familiar with, such as cups and ounces.

What are the five food groups?

  1. Grains—Bread, pasta, oatmeal, cereal, and tortillas are all grains.
  2. Fruits—Fruits can be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried. Juice that is 100% fruit juice also counts.
  3. Vegetables—Vegetables can be raw or cooked, frozen, canned, dried, or 100% vegetable juice.
  4. Protein foods—Protein foods include meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds.
  5. Dairy—Milk and products made from milk, such as cheese, yogurt, and ice cream, make up the dairy group.

Are oils and fats part of healthy eating?

Although they are not a food group, oils and fats do give you important nutrients. During pregnancy, the fats that you eat provide energy and help build many fetal organs and the placenta. Most of the fats and oils in your diet should come from plant sources. Limit solid fats, such as those from animal sources. Solid fats also can be found in processed foods.

Why are vitamins and minerals important in my diet?

Vitamins and minerals play important roles in all of your body functions. During pregnancy, you need more folic acid and iron than a woman who is not pregnant.

How can I get the extra amounts of vitamins and minerals I need during pregnancy?

Taking a prenatal vitamin supplement can ensure that you are getting these extra amounts. A well-rounded diet should supply all of the other vitamins and minerals you need during pregnancy.

What is folic acid and how much do I need daily?

Folic acid, also known as folate, is a B vitamin that is important for pregnant women. Before pregnancy and during pregnancy, you need 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to help prevent major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine called neural tube defects. Current dietary guidelines recommend that pregnant women get at least 600 micrograms of folic acid daily from all sources. It may be hard to get the recommended amount of folic acid from food alone. For this reason, all pregnant women and all women who may become pregnant should take a daily vitamin supplement that contains folic acid.

Why is iron important during pregnancy and how much do I need daily?

Iron is used by your body to make a substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen to your organs and tissues. During pregnancy, you need extra iron—about double the amount that a nonpregnant woman needs. This extra iron helps your body make more blood to supply oxygen to your baby. The daily recommended dose of iron during pregnancy is 27 mg, which is found in most prenatal vitamin supplements. You also can eat iron-rich foods, including lean red meat, poultry, fish, dried beans and peas, iron-fortified cereals, and prune juice. Iron also can be absorbed more easily if iron-rich foods are eaten with vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus fruits and tomatoes.

Why is calcium important during pregnancy and how much do I need daily?

Calcium is used to build your baby’s bones and teeth. All women, including pregnant women, aged 19 years and older should get 1,000 mg of calcium daily; those aged 14–18 years should get 1,300 mg daily. Milk and other dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, are the best sources of calcium. If you have trouble digesting milk products, you can get calcium from other sources, such as broccoli; dark, leafy greens; sardines; or a calcium supplement.

Why is vitamin D important during pregnancy and how much do I need daily?

Vitamin D works with calcium to help the baby’s bones and teeth develop. It also is essential for healthy skin and eyesight. All women, including those who are pregnant, need 600 international units of vitamin D a day. Good sources are milk fortified with vitamin D and fatty fish such as salmon. Exposure to sunlight also converts a chemical in the skin to vitamin D.

How much weight should I gain during pregnancy?

The amount of weight gain that is recommended depends on your health and your body mass index before you were pregnant. If you were a normal weight before pregnancy, you should gain between 25 pounds and 35 pounds during pregnancy. If you were underweight before pregnancy, you should gain more weight than a woman who was a normal weight before pregnancy. If you were overweight or obese before pregnancy, you should gain less weight.

Can being overweight or obese affect my pregnancy?

Overweight and obese women are at an increased risk of several pregnancy problems. These problems include gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, preterm birth, and cesarean delivery. Babies of overweight and obese mothers also are at greater risk of certain problems, such as birth defects, macrosomia with possible birth injury, and childhood obesity.

Can caffeine in my diet affect my pregnancy?

Although there have been many studies on whether caffeine increases the risk of miscarriage, the results are unclear. Most experts state that consuming fewer than 200 mg of caffeine (one 12-ounce cup of coffee) a day during pregnancy is safe.

What are the benefits of including fish and shellfish in my diet during pregnancy?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat found naturally in many kinds of fish. They may be important factors in your baby’s brain development both before and after birth. To get the most benefits from omega-3 fatty acids, women should eat at least two servings of fish or shellfish (about 8–12 ounces) per week and while pregnant or breastfeeding.

What should I know about eating fish during pregnancy?

Some types of fish have higher levels of a metal called mercury than others. Mercury has been linked to birth defects. To limit your exposure to mercury, follow a few simple guidelines. Choose fish and shellfish such as shrimp, salmon, catfish, and pollock. Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish. Limit white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces a week. You also should check advisories about fish caught in local waters.

How can food poisoning affect my pregnancy?

Food poisoning in a pregnant woman can cause serious problems for both her and her baby. Vomiting and diarrhea can cause your body to lose too much water and can disrupt your body’s chemical balance. To prevent food poisoning, follow these general guidelines:

  • Wash food. Rinse all raw produce thoroughly under running tap water before eating, cutting, or cooking.
  • Keep your kitchen clean. Wash your hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
  • Avoid all raw and undercooked seafood, eggs, and meat. Do not eat sushi made with raw fish (cooked sushi is safe). Food such as beef, pork, or poultry should be cooked to a safe internal temperature.

Morning Sickness

What is morning sickness?

Nausea and vomiting that happen during pregnancy, especially during the first part of pregnancy, often are called "morning sickness." Despite its name, morning sickness can occur at any time of the day.

What causes morning sickness?

Although no one is certain what causes morning sickness, increasing levels of hormones during pregnancy may play a role.

How long should I expect morning sickness to last?

In most women, symptoms of nausea and vomiting are mild and go away after the middle of pregnancy.

What are the effects of morning sickness on pregnancy?

Most mild cases of nausea and vomiting do not harm your health or your baby’s health. Morning sickness does not mean your baby is sick.

When is morning sickness considered severe?

Morning sickness is considered severe if you cannot keep any food or fluids down and begin to lose weight. This condition is called hyperemesis gravidarum.

Is there a cure for morning sickness?

There is no cure for morning sickness. Some research suggests that women who are taking a multivitamin supplement regularly at the time they become pregnant are less likely to have severe cases of morning sickness.

What can I do to ease my symptoms of morning sickness?

If you experience morning sickness, there are several things you can do that might help you feel better. You may need to try more than one of these remedies:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Avoid smells that bother you.
  • Eat five or six small meals each day instead of three large meals.
  • Eat a few crackers before you get out of bed in the morning to help settle your stomach.
  • Eat small snacks high in protein (such as a glass of milk or a cup of yogurt) throughout the day.
  • Avoid spicy foods and fatty foods.

Are there any herbal supplements that can help?

Ginger may be helpful for some women. Taking three 250-milligram capsules of ginger a day plus another capsule right before bed may help relieve nausea. Remember to talk with your health care provider before taking any herbal medication or supplement or trying any treatment. You also can try ginger ale or ginger tea made with real ginger.

How are severe symptoms of morning sickness treated?

Your health care provider will first find out whether your nausea and vomiting are due to morning sickness or if there is another medical cause. If other causes are ruled out, certain medications can be given. Vitamin B6 may be suggested first. Doxylamine, a medication found in over-the-counter sleep aids, may be added if vitamin B6 alone does not relieve symptoms. Drugs that combat nausea and vomiting may be prescribed. If you are dehydrated from loss of fluids, you may need to receive fluids through an intravenous (IV) line.

Travel During Pregnancy

What should I know about planning long car trips during pregnancy?

During a car trip, make each day’s drive brief. Try to limit driving to no more than 5 or 6 hours each day. Be sure to wear your seat belt every time you ride in a motor vehicle, even if your car has an air bag (see the FAQ Car Safety for Pregnant Women, Babies, and Children). Plan to make frequent stops to move around and stretch your legs.

When is the best time to travel during pregnancy?

The best time to travel is probably the middle of your pregnancy—between weeks 14 and 28. Most common pregnancy emergencies usually happen in the first and third trimesters. After 28 weeks, it may be harder for you to move around or sit for a long time.

What should I know about airplane travel while pregnant?

Some domestic airlines restrict travel during the last month of pregnancy or require a medical certificate; others discourage travel after 36 weeks of pregnancy. If you are planning an international flight, the cutoff point for traveling with international airlines is often earlier.

When traveling by air, you can take the following steps to help make your trip as comfortable as possible:

  • If you can, book an aisle seat, so that it is easy to get up and stretch your legs during a long flight.
  • Avoid gas-producing foods and carbonated drinks before your flight.
  • Wear your seatbelt at all times. The seatbelt should be belted low on the hipbones, below your belly.
  • If you are prone to nausea, your health care provider may be able to prescribe anti-nausea medication.

What should I know when planning a trip on a ship during pregnancy?

It may be a good idea, just in case, to ask your health care provider about which medications are safe for you to carry along to calm seasickness. Seasickness bands are useful for some people, although there is little scientific evidence that they work. These bands use acupressure to help ward off an upset stomach.

Another concern for cruise ship passengers is norovirus infection. Noroviruses are a group of viruses that can cause severe nausea and vomiting for 1 or 2 days. They are very contagious and can spread rapidly throughout cruise ships. People can become infected by eating food, drinking liquids, or touching surfaces that are contaminated with the virus. Before you book a cruise, you may want to check whether your ship has passed a health and safety inspection conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How can I prepare for a trip out of the country while pregnant?

If you are planning a trip out of the country, your health care provider can help you decide if travel outside the United States is safe for you and advise you about what steps to take before your trip. The CDC also is a good resource for travel alerts, safety tips, and up-to-date vaccination facts for many countries. While you are pregnant, you should not travel to areas where there is risk of malaria, including Africa, Central and South America, and Asia.

What should I be aware of when traveling out of the country?

When travelling out of the country, make sure to follow these tips:

  • The safest water to drink is tap water that has been boiled for 1 minute (3 minutes at altitudes higher than 6,000 feet). Bottled water is safer than unboiled tap water, but because there are no standards for bottled water, there is no guarantee that it is free of germs that can cause illness. Carbonated beverages and drinks made with boiled water are safe to drink.
  • Do not put ice made from unboiled water in your drinks. Do not drink out of glasses that may have been washed in unboiled water.
  • Avoid fresh fruits and vegetables unless they have been cooked or if you have peeled them yourself.
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked meat or fish.

What health care preparations should I make before traveling while pregnant?

If you are traveling in the United States, locate the nearest hospital or medical clinic in the place you are visiting. If you are traveling internationally, the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) has a worldwide directory of doctors. The doctors in the country you are visiting may not speak English, so bring a dictionary of the language spoken with you. Another tip is to register with an American embassy or consulate after you arrive at your destination. These agencies may be helpful if you need to leave the country because of an emergency.