Staying healthy during pregnancy

While you are pregnant it is important that you stay healthy both physically and mentally.

Emotional health

Being pregnant can be an emotional rollercoaster – one moment feeling excited and hopeful, and the next, wondering what you were thinking! Hormones can wreak havoc, and you can be very tired, with your body rapidly changing and you may be sore at times. It is no wonder moods can fluctuate.

However, there is some great information out there to help you know what the normal ranges of emotions should be, and when you might need a little extra help. If you have had mental health concerns in the past, being pregnant may also be a trigger for these to re-occur.

COPE provides excellent support options, and links to various support organisations. Please see the links below for more information.

Physical health

You are growing a whole new person and to do this, your body needs to go through a lot of changes. It is important to be as healthy as you can prior to pregnancy, and then maintain that good health throughout. Exercise is very important, as is a good healthy diet, regular pregnancy check-ups and dental appointments.

A few generalised tips for staying healthy during your pregnancy include:

  • Eat well and drink plenty of water
  • Regular gentle exercise, such as swimming or walking
  • Do not smoke
  • Do not drink alcohol
  • Do not use recreational drugs
  • Talk to your doctor about vaccinations for pregnancy and parenting
  • Always wear a seatbelt in the car – above and below your ‘belly bump’

Healthy eating

The following guidelines can help reduce your risk of developing Listeriosis (a bacteria found in soil) or other infections in food, such as gastroenteritis or toxoplasmosis (a parasite found in raw meat and cat faeces).

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly before preparing food, after handling raw food or prior to eating any food.
  • Keep stored food covered.
  • Thoroughly wash fruit and raw vegetables before eating or juicing.
  • Thoroughly cook all food of animal origin including meat, poultry and eggs.
  • Keep foods hot (over 60 degrees centigrade).
  • Reheat leftover food until steaming hot.
  • Only buy ready-to-eat hot food if it is steaming hot.
  • Store raw meat, raw poultry and raw fish on the lowest shelves in the refrigerator to prevent them dripping onto cooked foods or ready-to-eat foods.
  • Keep cold food at or below 5 degrees centigrade and keep your fridge clean.
  • Place all cooked food in the fridge within an hour of cooking.
  • Always follow use-by-dates on refrigerated foods.
  • Do not handle cooked foods with the same utensils (tongs, knives and cutting board) used on raw foods unless thoroughly washed in hot soapy water between uses.

Foods to avoid

  • Pre-cooked meat products if eaten cold (e.g. paté, sliced deli meat, cooked diced chicken)
  • Soft cheeses such as brie, camembert, ricotta and feta
  • Uncooked, smoked or ready-to-eat seafood like smoked fish or mussels
  • Soft serve ice-cream or soft serve frozen yoghurt
  • Pre-prepared coleslaw and salads (e.g. salads from salad bars or delicatessens)
  • Unpasteurised milk or food made from raw milk, or raw eggs

Healthy weight gain in pregnancy

You need to gain weight during pregnancy, however, how much weight you should gain will depend on how much you weighed before pregnancy. There are risks to being overweight, or underweight during pregnancy.

Below is a guide to the ideal weight gain for each stage of your pregnancy, based on your weight and height (BMI) at your first hospital visit.

Stage of pregnancyUnderweightHealthy weight
BMI rangesLess than 18.5kg/m18.5-24.9kg/m25-29.9kg/mHigher than 30kg/m
0-12 weeks1-3kg1-3kg0-1kg0-1kg
13-27 weeks5-7kg5-6kg3-5kg2-4kg
28-42 weeks6-8kg5-6kg4-5kg3-4kg
Healthy total weight gain12.5-18kg11.5-16kg7-11.5kg5-9kg

Unhealthy weight gain

Pregnancy is not a time for strict dieting, just sensible eating. If you are overweight prior to pregnancy, you should not attempt a weight reduction diet during pregnancy.

To help prevent excess weight gain, take regular gentle exercise such as walking, swimming or pregnancy Pilates and cut down on high-fat and high-sugar, energy dense foods and drinks.

Oral hygiene

Poor oral health in pregnant women can contribute to lower birth weight and premature births, and increases the risk of early dental decay in children.

Pregnancy hormones, morning sickness and some food cravings can increase your risk of having dental problems. Drink tap water every day, brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice daily, morning and night with a soft toothbrush. Clean between your teeth with dental floss daily.

If you have morning sickness DO NOT brush your teeth straight after vomiting – rinse your mouth with water first.

Medications and supplements

Some women will have pre-existing medical conditions requiring treatment with medications. It is important to continue taking prescribed medications until you have had a discussion with your pregnancy care doctor or GP, who will consider the risks and benefits of any medications.

Always ask a pharmacist before buying or taking any over the counter medications, or alternative medications, as many of these will not be considered appropriate during pregnancy, for example anti-inflammatories, decongestants, or cough mixtures.

Please note – many medications that are not safe to use during pregnancy, are ok to take during breastfeeding, so please seek further advice for after your baby is born.

Vitamins and minerals

Recommended amountNeeded forSources
Folate400 micrograms a day (start the month before pregnancy and continue for at least the first three months).Healthy growth and development of your baby and substantially reduces the risk of neural tube defects (e.g. spina bifida)A good simple supplement is a pregnancy multivitamin.Folate is found naturally in raw or lightly cooked green leafy vegetables and legumes (e.g. chick peas, lentils).Many processed foods now have folate added (e.g. bread, breakfast cereals, orange juice)
IronVaries – generally sufficient with meat and small amount in pregnancy multivitamin.Making red blood cells for you and your baby.Best sources are lean red meat, chicken and fish.Other sources include legumes, wholegrain breads and cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and eggs. Iron is not as well absorbed from these foods as it is from meat.Iron is best absorbed if taken with Vitamin C.
Calcium1000mg a dayThe development of your baby’s bones and teeth. Low levels in pregnancy increases your risk of osteoporosis later in life.Most calcium intake comes from dairy products.If you cannot eat dairy products, look for calcium-enriched food products in the supermarket.Calcium supplements are available from the pharmacy or health food store.
Vitamin DProduced within our bodies because of sunlight exposure – must be balanced with skin cancer risks.Essential for your body to absorb calcium.Sun exposure- the effect of sunlight on Vitamin D levels varies with age, skin colour, sun intensity, time of day and time of year.Generally, a fair-skinned person needs to expose their hands, face and arms (or equivalent area) to sunlight for about 10 minutes a day in the summer; in winter or if you have darker skin, 15 minutes or more may be required.1000 IU per day of D3 if still deficient.
Iodine150 micrograms a day when pregnant breastfeeding and pre-pregnancy.The normal mental development of the baby.Fish is the best food source.Women with a pre-existing thyroid condition should seek advice before taking supplements.
Omega 3 fatty acidsOmega 3 fatty acids.Development of the baby’s brain and nervous tissue.Oily fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna.
Vitamin B12Varies.Needed for cellular growth and nervous system development.All animal products including milk and eggs.If you do not eat any animal products, you will need a vitamin B12 supplement while pregnant and breastfeeding.

Other products

Some other products that you should reduce during pregnancy:

  • Tea, coffee and cola soft drinks contain caffeine. Limit to three cups of coffee, tea or cola drinks
  • Artificial sweeteners (like NutraSweet or EqualTM) and saccharin (like Sweet and Low TM) are all safe in moderation
  • Hair dyes, perming solutions and hair removers are generally safe for occasional use following the instructions
  • Household cleaners, herbicides, paint and poisons should be avoided during pregnancy. Check with the Poisons Information Line 13 11 26 before use.