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Healthy habits and pregnancy

Exercise Health Nutrition

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It is important to live a healthy life before, during and after pregnancy, so there are quite a lot of important life-style parameters to consider. Being pregnant is a happy condition that should in no way be regarded as an illness. Pregnant women are therefore not necessarily prevented from living as usual – by and large, at any rate. Certain habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol and taking vitamins should of course be carefully considered. In rare cases, problems may arise in connection with a pregnancy. Some women have problems with for instance pelvic instability (symphysis pubis dysfunction) that forces them to take it easy until they have given birth.

When you start thinking about getting pregnant it is sensible to begin taking the food supplement folic acid, which is a B vitamin that reduces the risk of giving birth to a baby suffering from a neural tube defect, that is, a defect of the spinal cord. The recommended daily intake is 400 microgram.

When you find out that you are pregnant, whether planned or not, it is important that you focus even greater attention on living a healthy life. If you have not previously given much thought about your state of health, this is the time to do so!!

The child you are going to carry for 40 weeks must be offered the best possible conditions of development, and you are responsible for providing those conditions. This means that you need to eat healthy and nutritious food. What you eat and drink through your entire pregnancy is transferred to your baby because nutrients, vitamins and possible harmful substances are transferred with your blood through the placenta and into your baby through the navel string. This way your baby is constantly getting fresh nutrition from you and returning waste products to you through the placenta that has a large surface where the exchange of substances is made quickly and effectively. This is also the reason why your baby is very much affected if you inhale, consume or take nicotine, alcohol or euphoriants.

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, her baby gets the exact same concentration of alcohol in its blood as its mother does! Pregnant women are therefore advised to drink no alcohol at all. Alcohol is harmful to the baby's development, and the intake of alcohol during pregnancy may result in permanent injury to the baby, such as heart defects and brain injuries.
Smoking is likewise harmful to the baby and pregnant women are therefore advised to quit smoking during pregnancy. Smoking may impair a baby's growth and pose an increased risk of premature birth. Second-hand smoke also has a negative impact on babies which is why pregnant women are advised to avoid being exposed to second-hand smoke wherever possible.

It is important, of course, to make sure that the baby gets an adequate nutrition of good quality and in the right amounts. It is recommended that pregnant women eat a varied diet that includes fish several times a week, for instance salmon, herring, plaice and cod because they contain vitamin D, iodine, selenium and all the good and vital oils and fats. It is also recommended that pregnant women take food supplements in the form of a multivitamin pill, extra calcium (in order to secure a proper development of the baby's bones) and iron. By contrast, pregnant women are advised not to take too much vitamin A – consult your physician or ask at your pharmacy to be adequately guided about your baby's needs.
Many women feel more hungry than usual during their pregnancy but you are not actually supposed to "eat for two" by consuming twice the usual amounts of food. During the first months of your pregnancy, you "only" need an extra total of 150 calories or so per day, later on you will need an extra 250 calories. When you consume more calories than your body needs during pregnancy, the extra calories will more often than not deposit on your body as excess fat. By far the most pregnant women consume quite a lot more calories than necessary and often gain considerable weight during their pregnancy, extra kilos that are hard to get rid of after giving birth. A healthy weight increase in connection with a pregnancy is about 10 to 15 kg, depending on a woman's build and initial weight. If a woman was underweight before her pregnancy, it is for instance appropriate for her to gain more weight than a woman who was overweight before her pregnancy.

It is healthy to get exercise during pregnancy - being fit may even ease your pregnancy and the delivery a little. The important thing here is to listen to the signals of your body and avoid overdoing it or going to extremes. Fitness training should be done at a moderate pace – avoid exerting yourself to exhaustion. A moderate pace could be in the form of swimming, biking or walking or the like. The extent to which you can keep doing fitness training during your pregnancy depends on how much and how intensely you are used to doing it. Towards the end of your pregnancy you will, of course, feel more laboured than you are used to. If you have never before done any fitness training, being pregnant is certainly no excuse for not starting to do so now! If you do workouts, however, you need to be a little careful because your joints are more flexible during pregnancy. It is therefore a good idea to use machines for the training because they are safer and more stable than free weights. All in all it is advisable to exercise during pregnancy, provided you are fit and healthy.

Finally, it is also necessary that you maintain the good habits also after giving birth. Basically, breast milk is the best nourishment you can give your newborn baby. In this connection it is important to know that many of the nutrients you consume are transferred to your baby through your breast milk. For the duration of the breast-feeding period it is therefore recommended that you keep your consumption and intake of alcohol as well as smoke as low as possible as you would otherwise risk harming your baby.

It may seem confusing having to follow all the directions and pieces of good advice you get from various sources when you are pregnant, but do not despair, living a sensible life and listening to your body will generally be a quite natural thing. So stop worrying and enjoy the little miracle!

Source: The National Board of Health, Denmark.

Note: The above recommendations do not necessarily apply to other countries than Denmark. Special care should be taken in relation to for instance advice on the consumption of fish and intake of vitamins.

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