How To Have A Healthy Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a really special time in a woman’s life and it’s no surprise that women are searching for information to help them have the safest and healthiest pregnancy possible. However, a safe and healthy pregnancy extends far beyond just the 40 weeks you are carrying the baby.  A safe and healthy pregnancy starts before conception and continues for at least a year postpartum.

Below you’ll find important information about how to prepare for pregnancy, have a healthy pregnancy, and recover post-pregnancy.

Preparing for Pregnancy

Planning and preparing your body for a healthy pregnancy is a wonderful opportunity to ensure that you and your new baby get the best head-start. While we understand that not every woman gets the luxury to prepare her body before becoming pregnant, if you do, we can help you make the most of it.

Pre-pregnancy diet: take a look at your nutrition.

First things first when preparing for pregnancy, nutrition.  Your nutrition will literally be the building blocks of life for your new baby.  It only makes sense to feed yourself well, and ensure that your baby has all the nutrients necessary for optimal development. This means eating adequate protein, lots of veggies and fruits, healthful fats (especially omega-3’s), unprocessed or minimally processed starches, and taking your prenatal vitamins as part of your pre-pregnancy diet.

Some examples of good nutritional sources are as follows:

  • Protein: eggs, beef, chicken,cottage cheese, lamb, pork, salmon, bison, turkey
  • Vegetables: carrots, broccoli, onions, spinach, cabbage, kale, peppers, cucumbers
  • Fruits: berries, oranges, apples, tomatoes, bananas, plums, grapefruit, kiwi
  • Fats: olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, nut butter, nuts, ghee, real butter, fatty fish
  • Starches: rice, potatoes (all varieties), quinoa, corn, whole grain bread, oats

Establishing a good diet before pregnancy and practicing good nutrition habits while trying to conceive also means eating enough calories.  If you’re underweight and/or you consistently under eat, you may find you had a more difficult time getting pregnant.

There are many benefits to pre-pregnancy exercise and strength training.

In terms of exercise while trying to conceive, your key focal points should be:

  • Improve posture and alignment to minimize pregnancy aches and pains and increase your chances of carrying your baby in a good position.
  • Gain strength and lean mass, specifically in the glutes, hamstrings, anterior core, and upper back, to help take some of the load off your joints, tendons, and ligaments as your belly grows.
  • Prepare the core and pelvic floor to maintain strength, integrity, and a balanced tone throughout pregnancy.
  • Develop a solid aerobic base and help manage stress levels through low and moderate intensity cardio.
  • Allow for adequate recovery so your overall stress load is low.
  • Achieve or maintain healthy levels of body fat to optimize chance of conception.

Pre-pregnancy tip: Managing stress is key to getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy.  When you’re over-stressed, your body assumes it’s not a good time to get pregnant and you may have a harder time conceiving. Remember that this can be any kind of stress, including psychological, emotional, physical, etc. Yes, your stressful financial situation or lack of sleep could affect your ability to conceive!

During Pregnancy

Congrats!  You’re pregnant! Whether you’re 6 weeks in or 36 weeks in, it’s never too late to prioritize a healthy pregnancy with good nutrition, appropriate and safe workouts, and good stress management techniques.

What is most important regarding nutrition during pregnancy?

In terms of nutrition, during pregnancy it’s important to keep in mind that your baby eats what you eat, and what you eat will literally become the building blocks of life for your new baby.  It only makes sense to feed yourself well, and ensure that your baby has all the nutrients necessary for optimal development. This means eating adequate protein, lots of fruits and veggies, healthful fats (especially omega-3’s), unprocessed or minimally processed starches, and taking your vitamins.

If you struggle with morning sickness (or all-day sickness) you may have a hard time keeping food down in the first trimester of pregnancy, and you may find yourself losing a bit of weight instead of gaining.  This is normal, and generally OK, but make sure you stay hydrated, and keep an open line of communication with your Doctor about how much weight you’re losing.  If it becomes significant, it can absolutely become cause for concern.

In addition, you may have heard that women who carry significant amounts of excess body fat can safely lose weight in pregnancy and have a healthy pregnancy, however, the most recent research does not recommend this.  Instead, the recommendations for gestational weight gain in obese women are 11-20 lbs. versus the 25-35 lb. recommendation for women who fall into the “normal weight” category.

While you have probably heard that pregnancy is “eating for two,” keep in mind that in the beginning of pregnancy, your body only requires an extra 150 calories a day, which is the equivalent of two whole eggs, or just over 1.5 tablespoons of peanut butter, so it’s not exactly the time to double up your portion sizes.  Closer to the end of pregnancy as your baby grows, you’ll require closer to 300 extra calories a day, which is still not a ton of food.  Your best bet is to eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re 80% full, and listen to your body.  If you’re eating mostly the foods we listed above, you’ll be just fine.

What are some basic rules about exercises during pregnancy?

In terms of exercise and safe workouts, you may have heard these two rules:

  1. If you were doing it before you got pregnant, it’s fine to keep doing it in pregnancy.
  2. Don’t start any new exercise regimens in pregnancy.

What would you say if we told you that both of these are false?

Wait—what!? This has been the classic “safe exercising in pregnancy” advice for decades.  How can it be false?  Read on to find out!

Why Rule #1 Is FALSE:

While it’s absolutely true that if you were exercising pre-pregnancy, you can continue with many of same exercises in pregnancy, there are definitely adjustments to be made.  For the most part, if you feel well enough, your exercise during the first 20-24 weeks can look very similar to how it looked pre-pregnancy.  However, as the belly grows, you’ll want to avoid exercises that put extra pressure or stress on your anterior core (i.e. your abs), and exercises that put a lot of downward pressure on your pelvic floor.

Exercises that put extra stress on your anterior core are ones where your belly “hangs” down, like Front Planks or Push-ups, or “bulges” out like Sit-ups or Crunches.  Both of these can worsen Diastasis Recti, which is the abdominal separation that occurs during pregnancy to accommodate for your growing belly.

Exercises that put a lot of downward pressure on your pelvic floor include plyometrics, running, box jumps, etc.  As you get further along in pregnancy, you may find that exercises like Back Squats and Overhead Press fall into this category as well. Because your pelvic floor is already experiencing increased downward pressure from your growing belly, you’ll want to avoid exacerbating this pressure.

Why Rule #2 Is FALSE

If you weren’t active or you weren’t strength training before you got pregnant, you can absolutely start exercising and strength training in pregnancy, however, you must be cleared by your Doctor for exercise, which you would need to be even if you weren’t pregnant.

The catch here is this: If you were sedentary pre-pregnancy, you should be exercising at a low to moderate intensity throughout pregnancy; whereas someone who was training at a moderate to high intensity pre-pregnancy, can continue training at a moderate to high intensity throughout pregnancy. While exercising in pregnancy is important, a safe workout should always be your priority.

This is also a great time to continue focusing on restorative exercise like low and moderate intensity cardio to help build and maintain an aerobic base and help manage your stress levels. Managing stress is key to having a healthy pregnancy.

After Pregnancy

Recently had a baby?  Feeling eager to get back to your pre-baby workouts and lose the “baby weight?”

This is really common after pregnancy, and while we totally understand these desires, as a new mom it’s important to take time after welcoming your baby into the world to focus on loving, bonding, and healing.  Losing the weight healthfully and returning to pre-baby exercise safely could take some time. And that’s OK.

How soon can you start a “post-pregnancy workout plan?”

According to pre and postnatal expert, Girls Gone Strong Advisory Board Member Jessie Mundell, there are some exercises that can and should be done immediately postpartum to help your body heal well.

“I advise postpartum mamas to follow my 4R Post-Pregnancy Protocol:

  1. Rest
  2. Recover
  3. Rehab
  4. Retrain

These are all important steps to feeling more comfortable in your body, allowing your body to truly heal itself from the inside out, and getting back to the gym in a strong, safe manner in due time.”

These steps are especially important if you’ve had a c-section.  C-sections, while common, are still major abdominal surgery and should be treated as such.  You have several layers of sutures, and just because your outer incision may be healed around 6 weeks post c-section does not mean that you’re ready to return to normal activity.

If you had major knee surgery, would you return to normal activity 6 weeks later once your incision healed with no physical therapy or guidance for working your back back to normal activity?  We hope not!  Returning to exercise after a c-section is no different.

“The types of exercise that will be beneficial around 6 weeks post c-section are, for example, breathing, walking, core restoration, and bodyweight exercises.

The types of exercise that will not be beneficial at this time are, for example, running, jumping, heavy weight training, crunches, leg raises, and other traditional “ab” exercises.”  – Jessie Mundell

Once you have given your body time to rest and recover, and you’ve been able to rehabilitate and retrain your core and pelvic floor to function optimally, you can slowly return to normal exercise.  You can learn more about returning to exercise post-pregnancy here.

It’s important to pay attention to your post-pregnancy diet.

In terms of losing weight post-pregnancy, your number one concern should be eating enough high-quality, nutrient-dense calories to support breastfeeding your baby, if that’s what you choose to do, and keeping your energy levels up since you’ll be running low on sleep.

Even if you don’t breastfeed, eating high-quality, nutrient-dense, whole food is still your best bet for staying healthy while dealing with the stress of having an infant. This means eating plenty of lean protein, vegetables, fruits, healthful fats, and unprocessed or minimally processed starches.

Keep in mind that you will be on a post-baby hormone roller coaster after you deliver, and this will dictate everything from hunger levels to energy levels to mood to sleep to your ability to deal with stress and lose body fat. This hormone roller coaster coupled with the fact that you shouldn’t be exercising very strenuously immediately post-pregnancy means that your main goal immediately post delivery should be to relax, spend time with your new baby, and heal your body so that when it is time to return to strenuous workouts, you have a solid foundation and you’re ready to rock.

Don’t put so much stress on yourself to “get your body back.”  Your body just did something miraculous, and not giving yourself time to heal properly, may lead to some major setbacks in the future.

Additional Resources

  1. Ladan G (2014). Symposiums: Nutrition and Infertility: Fertile Field of Research and Intervention with Preventive Value. Nutrition and Food Sciences Research, 1(1).
  2. Zavorsky G and Longo L (2012). Exercise Guidelines in Pregnancy. Sports Medicine 41(5).
  3. International Journal of Obesity, The effect of physical exercise strategies on weight loss in postpartum women: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
closechevron-upchevron-downbars linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram