A Happy, Healthy Pregnancy is within Your Reach

By Margaret McKenzie, MD

There are few life events that can compare to the 280 or so-day journey called pregnancy.  The roller-coaster ride of excitement and anxiety, combined with the vast changes going on in a woman’s body can be overwhelming.  But a positive experience with pregnancy is well within your reach.

It’s important to understand the myriad of changes going on in your body during pregnancy.  The first thing that develops when a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall is the placenta.  The placenta serves as the bridge between the baby and mother, filtering and exchanging nutrients and gases, and carrying immune cells to the developing fetus.  It also produces and secretes important hormones like extra estrogen, which is critical for you and your developing baby. It stimulates other hormones that affect the growth of the uterus, enlarges your milk ducts, and opens blood vessels to ensure that blood can run easily between you and your baby. 

One of the reason’s a mother’s health is so important during pregnancy is that it influences the way the placenta functions.  The health of the placenta has a major influence on the baby’s health both inside the womb, and long after birth.

Eating for Two?

It’s vital that you get enough energy to sustain both you and your developing baby.  But that’s not the same thing as eating for two.  While your well-meaning friends and relatives may be pushing you to eat more, your developing fetus has little in the way of caloric needs.  During the first trimester, think a “100-calorie pack,” or an additional small glass of low-fat milk per day.  That’s all you need to sustain your baby’s growth.  Increase your calories by 250 per day during the second trimester (one piece of fruit or a handful of nuts), and 300 (two pieces of fruit) during the third.  

Also, the quality of your food choices is much more important than the quantity.  Pregnancy is a great time to adopt healthy eating habits that will serve you and your baby well both now and in the future.  Choose fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy products; and avoid saturated fats, trans fats, simple sugars, high fructose corn syrup and enriched or bleached flour. 

Your obstetrician will recommend a daily prenatal vitamin that will cover your basic vitamin and mineral needs during pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins are important as they have specific ingredients that are necessary for healthy babies, like folic acid. Also, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoid acid) is important for your baby’s developing brain.  This can be found in fish (choose low-mercury-content options), fortified foods and supplements.  I recommend 300 to 600 mg per day. 

Of course, even with the best intentions, there are times when your cravings for certain foods may win out.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Just make your best effort to eat as healthy as possible over the course of your pregnancy.

Avoid Toxins

We’ve all heard that it is important to avoid tobacco and alcohol during pregnancy, but there are a number of additional toxins that can adversely affect your developing baby.  For example, nitrates and methylates, found in hot dogs, lunch meats and saturated fats, actually affect DNA.  Excess radiation (from excessive exposure to X-rays) can impact a developing fetus. 

Bisphenol-A(BPA) containing compounds, like plastic bottles and the insides of some cans, affect the development of the brain and reproductive system.  When drinking from plastic bottles, look for the number 2 or 4, but not 3, 6, 7, 8, or 9 in the triangle on the bottom of the bottle.  A 1 is acceptable, but not reusable. 

Finally, more than 600,000 babies are born in the United States every year with unsafe levels of mercury, which is associated with developmental delays.  I tell pregnant patients to limit their use of tuna to less than 6 oz. per week. 

Don’t Stop Moving

Pregnancy is not a good time to start an intense new workout, or to substantially increase the intensity of your current regimen.  But you should feel free to continue most of your current activities.  The female body is designed to withstand some physical stress.  If you get so out of breath that you can’t carry on a conversation, or if you feel overheated, reduce the intensity of your work-out.  Walking for 30 minutes every day will provide you with a base level of fitness. Try adding some flexibility training to your daily routine, which is an excellent way to prepare for delivery. 

Limit Stress 

Being the center of attention of your family and friends can be great, but at times it’s a bit overwhelming.  Everyone is an expert when it comes to issues of pregnancy and newborn care!  Knowledge is your best defense.  Keep a list of questions to discuss with your obstetrician and don’t be afraid to ask.  He or she can provide you with accurate answers that you can relay to family and friends. 

For more information, please visit the Center for Specialized Women's Health.


Dr. McKenzie is a staff member in the Cleveland Clinic Center for Specialized Women’s Health. She has delivered more than 8,000 babies. She shares a wealth of additional information as a co-author in the most recent release by the “You Doctors,” Michael Roizen, MD, and Mehmet Oz, MD, in You, Having a Baby, now available at major book retailers and online at Amazon.com.


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