Eating & Exercise
Foods To Enjoy
- Try and swap unhealthy foods for healthier options
- Fruit and vegetables are good sources of minerals and fibre
- Potatoes, rice and bread are a good source of energy
- Cheese, milk and yoghurt are a good source of calcium
- Well cooked meat and fish are good sources of protein
Always thoroughly wash raw vegetables, fruit and salad before eating.
Some women develop diabetes in pregnancy because their body doesn’t produce enough insulin to meet the extra needs of their baby. A special diet will need to be adopted to maintain healthy glucose levels. More information can be found on our Diabetes page.
Foods To Avoid
- Soft mould-ripened cheeses, such as Brie and Camembert and blue veined cheeses such as Roquefort
- Raw or undercooked non lion marked eggs
- Unpasteurised milk, including goats’ cheese
- Raw or undercooked meat including pâtés and liver
- Cold cured meats, such as salami, pepperoni, chorizo and prosciutto (unless cooked thoroughly)
- Shark, sword fish, marlin and raw shellfish
- Liquorice root
- Vitamin A supplements
- Tuna should be limited to 4 tins or 2 fresh steaks per week
- Caffeine should also be avoided whilst pregnant
Believe it or not, it’s even more important to exercise during pregnancy because it:
- Helps control weight gain
- Helps reduce high blood pressure
- Helps prevent gestational diabetes
- Improves mood and mental health
- Improves your general wellbeing
Physical activity does not increase the risk of:
- Your baby being born early or with poor health
- Your baby being born “too big” or “too small”
- Your milk supply
Most importantly, it’s recommended that you are moderately active for 150 minutes a week, that’s just over 20 minutes each day.
In addition you should aim for muscle strengthening activities twice a week.
Ideas to try at home this week:
- Gentle Weights
Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
Folic Acid can help prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida and other conditions including cleft palate or cleft lip. It needs to be taken daily for the first three months of pregnancy. Your GP will prescribe you with a daily dose of 400 mcg from when you start trying to conceive. Don’t panic if you didn’t start taking it before you found out you were pregnant as it will still benefit your baby from now until the first three months of pregnancy. Women who are at high risk of developing complications need to take a higher dose of 5 milligrams. Extra forms of folic acid can be found in foods such as peas, broccoli, oranges and chickpeas.
We recommend taking Folic Acid Gummies available from Amazon. Do speak to your GP or Midwife before taking them.
Vitamin C helps to maintain healthy tissue in the body. You can find vitamin C in lots of foods including peppers, broccoli, oranges and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium which helps your baby’s bones and teeth grow strong. You can absorb vitamin D through sunlight. However, UK health departments recommend that all pregnant women take a daily supplement of 10 micrograms.
Iron helps your red blood cells to store and carry oxygen around the body. Almost a quarter of pregnant women develop iron-deficiency anaemia due to a lack of iron. The best source of iron is from eating foods such as red meat, fish and poultry.
Calcium is vital for making your baby’s bones and teeth.
Sources of calcium include:
- milk, cheese and yoghurt
- green leafy vegetables, such as rocket, watercress or curly kale
- soya drinks with added calcium
- bread and any foods made with fortified flour
- fish where you eat the bones, such as sardines and pilchards
A varied and balanced vegetarian diet should provide enough nutrients for you and your baby during pregnancy.
But you might find it more difficult to get enough iron and vitamin B12.
Talk to a midwife or doctor about how to make sure you’re getting enough of these important nutrients.
If you’re vegan or you follow a restricted diet because of a food intolerance (for example, a gluten-free diet for coeliac disease) or for religious reasons, talk to a midwife or GP.
Ask to be referred to a dietitian for advice on how to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need for you and your baby.
Do not take cod liver oil or any supplements containing vitamin A (retinol) when you’re pregnant. Too much vitamin A could harm your baby. Always check the label.
During pregnancy, your immune system (the body’s natural defence) is weakened to protect the pregnancy. This can mean you’re less able to fight off infections. As the baby grows, you may be unable to breathe as deeply, increasing the risk of infections such as pneumonia.
These changes can raise the risk from flu – pregnant women are more likely to get flu complications than women who are not pregnant and are more likely to be admitted to hospital. Having the flu vaccine means you’re less likely to get flu.
Whooping cough is a very serious infection, and young babies are most at risk. Most babies with whooping cough will be admitted to hospital.
When you have the whooping cough vaccination in pregnancy, your body produces antibodies to protect against whooping cough. These antibodies pass to your baby giving them some protection until they’re able to have their whooping cough vaccination at 8 weeks old.
When you’re pregnant, it’s best to avoid visiting countries or areas where travel vaccinations are required. TravelHealthPro has information and advice about travel vaccinations for different countries.
It may not always be possible to avoid areas that require vaccinations when you’re pregnant. If this is the case, talk to a midwife or GP, who can tell you about the risks and benefits of any vaccinations you might need.
If there’s a high risk of infection in the area you are travelling to, it’s often safer to have a vaccine rather than travel unprotected as most diseases will be more harmful to your baby than a vaccine.
For example, yellow fever is a virus spread by mosquitoes. Most people who get severe yellow fever die from it. The yellow fever vaccine is a live vaccine, but it may be considered necessary to have the vaccination if you’re travelling to areas where yellow fever is common because the risks of yellow fever are so high.
If a vaccine uses a live version of the virus, such as the MMR vaccine, you’ll usually be advised to wait until after your baby is born before you get vaccinated.
This is because there’s a potential risk that live vaccines could cause your unborn baby to become infected. But there’s no evidence that any live vaccine causes birth defects.
Sometimes, a live vaccine may be used during pregnancy if the risk of infection is greater than the risk of the vaccination. Your midwife, GP or pharmacist can give you more advice about vaccinations during pregnancy.
Live vaccines include:
- BCG (vaccination against tuberculosis)
- MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)
- oral polio (which forms part of the 5-in-1 vaccine given to infants)
- oral typhoid
- yellow fever
Pregnant women are particularly susceptible to malaria. This is a serious condition which, if severe, can be fatal for both a mother and her baby. Malaria mainly affects countries in:
- South America and Central America
- The Middle East
If possible, avoid travelling in these areas if you are pregnant. However, if you’re unable to postpone or cancel your trip, preventative treatment is available. This involves taking antimalarial medicine tablets to reduce your risk of getting malaria.
The antimalarial medicine you take may depend on which country you’re travelling to, your stage of pregnancy and whether you have any other pre-existing medical conditions. In some areas certain antimalarial medicines do not work because the malaria parasite has developed resistance to them.
Some antimalarial medicines are known to affect the developing baby. For example, doxycycline can cause the baby’s milk teeth to be discoloured if a pregnant woman takes it after the first 12 or 13 weeks of pregnancy.
Other antimalarial medicines have not been studied sufficiently and more research on their use in pregnancy is needed. But the risk of harm to you and your baby from malaria is likely to be much greater than any potential risk from taking antimalarial medicine.
The bumps website has more information about antimalarial medicines and their use in pregnancy, including:
If you’re pregnant, make sure you take precautions against being bitten by insects. For example:
- use a mosquito repellent that’s specifically recommended for use in pregnancy
- wear a long-sleeved top, full-length trousers and socks to cover up your skin from dusk until dawn
- always sleep under a mosquito net
Pelvic Floor Exercises
Where are my pelvic floor muscles?
Doing pelvic floor exercises regularly will help prevent you accidentally leaking wee when you cough or strain, both during your pregnancy and after your baby is born.
Your pelvic floor muscles surround and support all the organs in your pelvis – your womb, bowels and bladder.
How to find your pelvic floor muscles
You can find out where the pelvic floor muscles are and how you control them next time you go to the toilet. As you wee, try to stop the flow briefly. The muscles you use to do this are your pelvic floor muscles.
Don’t do this more than once, though. It’s not good for your bladder to stop mid-wee and doing it regularly may lead to a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Why pelvic floor exercises are important
During your pregnancy, your pelvic floor muscles will loosen due to hormonal changes in your body. This loosening, along with your growing baby pressing on your bladder, may cause you to leak urine when you cough, laugh, sneeze or exercise.
Doing pelvic floor exercises will strengthen these muscles and help you control any accidents. It will also help you ease your baby out during labour, and recover faster after the birth.
How do I exercise my pelvic floor muscles?
Once you’ve found your pelvic floor muscles, try stopping an imaginary wee rather than a real one. Once you can locate them like this, you can exercise them any time you like by tightening and lifting.
To tighten and lift your pelvic floor muscles, imagine doing the following at the same time:
- squeezing your bottom as if stopping a poo
- squeezing to stop the flow of wee
- squeezing as though you’re gripping a tampon in your vagina.
You can do pelvic floor exercises anywhere you like. Nobody will know what you’re doing – as long as you don’t raise your eyebrows each time you squeeze.
You can exercise on the bus, while you’re on the phone or waiting in the supermarket queue.
Practise at home
Practise these exercises in front of a mirror. Then you’ll know you can do them without making faces before you try them on a crowded bus or at work.
Slow squeeze pelvic floor exercise
This exercise will help support the organs in your pelvis and your growing baby.
You may not be able to hold this squeeze for long at first, but keep building up the time and make sure you always release it slowly.
- Slowly tighten your pelvic floor, lifting the muscles inwards and upwards.
- Continue lifting up through your pelvis and into your tummy.
- Try to hold it for 4 seconds, then release slowly.
- If you find you struggle to hold the squeeze for this long and there’s nothing left to release, try holding it for less time at first and working up to 4 seconds.
- Gradually increase the length of the hold. Make sure you always have some of the squeeze left to release and that you’re able to release slowly at the end of the exercise.
Quick squeeze pelvic floor exercise
This exercise will help make you less likely to wet yourself!
- Tighten and lift your pelvic floor in one quick contraction, squeezing the muscles inwards and upwards.
- Pause before releasing slowly.
- Relax fully at the end.
- Try to perform each repetition with the same speed and strength as the first.
Remember to breathe normally when you’re doing your pelvic floor exercises.
How often should I do my pelvic floor exercises?
Once you get used to doing them, start off with 5 squeezes 5 times a day. Increase this to 10 squeezes 5 times a day if you can. Try to do a mixture of slow and quick squeezes.
It’s very important to keep your teeth and gums clean and healthy while you’re pregnant. The best way to prevent or deal with gum problems is to practise good oral hygiene.
Go to the dentist so they can give your teeth a thorough clean and show you how to keep your teeth clean at home.
Here’s how you can look after your teeth and gums:
- Clean your teeth carefully twice a day for 2 minutes with a fluoride toothpaste – ask your dentist to show you a good brushing method to remove plaque.
- Floss once a day to remove small bits of food from between your teeth, which will help to prevent the build-up of plaque.
- Brushing is best with a small-headed toothbrush with soft filaments – make sure it’s comfortable to hold.
- Avoid having sugary drinks (such as fizzy drinks or sweet tea) and sugary foods too often – try to keep them to meal times.
- If you’re hungry between meals, snack on foods such as vegetables, fresh fruit or plain yoghurt, and avoid sugary or acidic foods (find more healthy snack ideas).
- Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol.
- Stop smoking, as it can make gum disease worse.
- A daily salt rinse (1 teaspoon of salt added to a cup of warm water) can help reduce gum inflammation. Swirl the wash around your mouth a few times before spitting it out (do not swallow).
If you have morning sickness (nausea and vomiting), rinse your mouth with plain water after each time you are sick. This will help prevent the acid in your vomit from damaging your teeth.
Do not brush your teeth straight away as they will be softened by the acid from your stomach. Wait about an hour before brushing.
Some women get swollen and sore gums, which may bleed, during pregnancy. Bleeding gums are caused by a build-up of plaque on the teeth.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can make your gums more vulnerable to plaque, leading to inflammation and bleeding. This is also called pregnancy gingivitis or gum disease. Your dentist will be able to help with this. Dental care is free during pregnancy and until 1 year after your due date.
To get free dental care, you need to apply for a maternity exemption certificate (MatEx). Ask your doctor, nurse or midwife for form FW8. You complete parts 1 and 2 of the form, and your doctor, midwife or nurse signs it to confirm that the information you’ve given is correct.
When you go to the dentist, make sure they know you’re pregnant.
Discuss with your dentist whether any new or replacement fillings should be delayed until after your baby is born. The Department of Health and Social Care advises that amalgam fillings should not be removed during pregnancy.
If you need a dental X-ray, your dentist will usually wait until you’ve had your baby, even though most dental X-rays do not affect the tummy (abdomen) or pelvic area.
Smoking in pregnancy can seriously harm your baby’s health.
Cigarettes contain more than 4,000 chemicals. When you smoke, the chemicals stop oxygen and essential nutrients from reaching your unborn baby. This affects your baby’s heart, making it work harder, your baby’s growth rate and the development of your baby’s brain. Low birth weight in babies is also linked to problems that develop as an adult, such as coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Smoking can cause your baby to be born prematurely, be born underweight, be more receptive to infections and other health conditions such as asthma, and have an increased risk of cot death. Smoking can also cause morning sickness, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, birth complications and even stillbirth.
Second-hand (or passive) smoke is also dangerous, so try to keep away from smoky places and smokers. Ask smokers in the family to support you and your baby by smoking outside and not near you. While e-cigarettes can help smokers quit, the vapour they produce contains metals and toxins and the risks of e-cigarettes to unborn babies are still not understood.
You can stop smoking at any time throughout your pregnancy. There are many services providing support:
Body Mass Index
If you have a BMI of over 30, it is recommended to lose weight before you become pregnant. If you are already pregnant, you can still discuss a suitable exercise plan and diet with your GP. If you have a BMI below 18, it is best to try and gain some weight consistently throughout your pregnancy. Your GP or midwife can put together a nutritional plan for you.
Giving Up Drinking
The Department of Health recommend avoiding alcohol during pregnancy.
Alcohol passes to your unborn baby through your placenta. Alcohol in the baby’s blood can interfere with the oxygen and nutrient supply. The baby’s brain and other organs can be affected, causing long term problems with health and development. Drinking alcohol at critical times in the baby’s development, heavy binge drinking and frequent drinking increase the likelihood that the baby will be affected.
The safest way to ensure your baby is not damaged by alcohol is to not drink while you are pregnant. If you are finding it hard to stop drinking, ask your midwife or GP for special support or phone Drinkline on 0300 123 1110.