Depending on your current lifestyle, you may need to make some key changes to prepare for a healthier pregnancy.
By smoking, a woman nearly doubles her risk of having a low-birth-weight baby, which can cause various health problems in a newborn. Smoking the month before conception and during pregnancy also raises the risk of congenital heart defects.
Plus, the U.S. Public Health Service reports that if all pregnant women in the United States stopped smoking, we'd see an estimated 11 percent reduction in stillbirths and 5 percent fewer newborn deaths.
And if your husband smokes, he's not off the hook either. Secondhand smoke affects the health of the baby, too. In fact, exposure to secondhand smoke leads to a 20 percent higher chance of having a low-birth-weight baby as well as an increased risk for preterm labor and premature birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Reduce stress levels
This is certainly easier said than done, but the more you lower your stress levels, the better your chances of conception (stress may cause delayed or missed periods) - and the healthier your pregnancy. Plus, extreme levels of stress, such as those caused by losing a job, divorce or death of a loved one, can increase the risks for preterm birth or low birth weight babies.
To help keep stress levels in check and for your overall health:
- Maintain a healthy diet.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Get enough sleep
- Exercise according to your doctor's instructions.
- Seek support from your friends and family.
- Get a massage.
- Take a yoga class (ask the instructor about poses to avoid during pregnancy).
- Learn relaxation therapies like guided imagery.
Get your sleep
Getting the proper amount of sleep helps reduce stress and tension. And when you do conceive, your body - and your baby - will need the rest. In fact, during your first trimester, you might need even more sleep than usual as your body works overtime to nurture the developing baby.
The National Sleep Foundation says it's important for pregnant women to prioritize sleep and to manage any sleep problems as early as possible in their pregnancy. In addition to being good for your overall health, poor sleep may also affect your labor and delivery experience.
Take note: In 2004, Researchers from the University of California at San Francisco found that women who slept fewer than six hours per night had longer labors and were four and a half times more likely to have cesarean deliveries than those who slept more.
Experts say that if you stick to a fitness routine before you get pregnant, you increase your odds of having a comfortable pregnancy. And a helpful bonus: You'll build stamina for labor and delivery. Plus, regular moderate exercise is key to achieving a healthy weight, which improves your changes of conception. However, excessive strenuous exercise can decrease fertility, so be careful not to overdo it.
If you already have an exercise regimen, stick with it. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy pregnant women get at least 20 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days.
Consider activities like:
Monitor your heart rate when you exercise to help make sure you don't overdo it. Your doctor can guide you on what your maximum heart rate should be during exercise. And before starting any exercise program, talk to your doctor about what's right for you based on your pre-pregnancy activity levels and current health. Plus, be sure to stay away from activities that have a high risk of injury like skiing and contact sports.