Hamilton midwife Christina Campbell says her best advice is to be “as healthy as possible”, both mentally and physically, every day.
“It’s the basics, like having a healthy diet, cutting out sweet, fizzy or energy drinks, regular exercise, having a positive support network and adequate sleep.”
Auckland midwife Sarai Tepou says prenatal health is “really, really” important.
“It’s during this time that you set yourself up for a good labour, birth and postnatal recovery.”
Preparing for a healthy baby needed to begin even before conception, Campbell says.
Women need to avoid alcohol, all recreational drugs, and stop smoking or vaping if planning to get pregnant.
“If you are smoking, this is the best time to quit through Quit Smoking agencies. This is a free service that you can self-refer online, or through your midwife or doctor’s practice.”
Folic acid and iron supplements
Folic acid tablets were recommended for at least four weeks prior to getting pregnant to help reduce neural tube defects, including spina bifida.
“If you are not already on folic acid then start taking this supplement, which is available on script from your midwife or doctor, and take up to the end of 12 weeks of pregnancy.”
Iron supplements may also be needed as pregnancy progressed.
“Having good iron levels helps to reduce the chance of illness and fatigue, reduces the risk of complications such as excessive bleeding during or after the birth, and also help you recover afterwards.”
Iodine tablets are also recommended throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding, as iron is an essential nutrient for brain and cell development.
Tepou says it is important for women to understand the purpose of the supplements.
“If people don’t understand why they are taking these things, they just don’t take them.”
Healthy diet is key
However, Tepou says women needed to remember medication is a supplement to healthy eating, not a replacement.
“Fresh, healthy food is key. We need to return to this mentality of food as medicine.”
Vaccines for flu and whooping cough are free to pregnant women and are recommended by the Ministry of Health.
Campbell says the saying of ‘eating for two’ in pregnancy is not sound advice.
“That can be an age-old excuse to overeat and to eat the wrong things. Moderation is key.”
Pregnant women should avoid sugar, including sugary drinks.
“Lots of water is best. Tea and coffee in moderation is okay. Some like to quit coffee but keep it in perspective and try not to consume too much caffeine.”
Women should also avoid eating precooked foods – the likes of ham, deli foods, soft cheese, and uncooked seafood – to reduce the chance of contracting listeria.
Campbell says excessive weight could contribute to gestational diabetes, raised blood pressure, and large babies, all of which increase the chances of a caesarean birth.
“Ideally it is good to be within a normal BMI range, which takes into account your weight in proportion to your height. For women with obese BMIs, this is a chance to look at making some simple changes to lifestyle influences, to either reduce weight or prevent excessive weight gain in pregnancy.”
The importance of exercise
Regular exercise throughout pregnancy is important.
“It’s much better to be active as opposed to inactive for good mental and physical health, which prepares you well for growing baby, birth, and recovery afterwards.”
Campbell says women should aim to exercise for about 20 minutes a day minimum.
Walking, pregnancy yoga, swimming, dancing, gym work or “whatever moves your body” is good, she says.
“By regularly exercising, you get a good intake of oxygen, which is great for our own minds and feeds the unborn baby oxygen-rich blood – enhancing brain and cell development.”
Tepou often advises her clients to walk for about 20 minutes a day, especially from 36 weeks pregnant.
“Gravity and the weight of bub on the cervix makes an impact and helps prepare the cervix for birth.”
What to watch for
Women should contact their doctors if they feel medically unwell, or contact their midwives if it is pregnancy related.
Danger signs could be vaginal bleeding, unusually severe stomach pain, sudden severe swelling, severe headaches, reduced baby movements, trauma to the abdomen, and leaking waters.
“All the risks may seem daunting, but looking after yourself well with the basics of a good lifestyle and regular check-ups with your midwife optimise best outcomes,” Campbell says.