Dos and don'ts for a safer pregnancy
Do stay active
Being sedentary (sitting down a lot) is not healthy for you or your baby.
It puts you at higher risk of too much weight gain, gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and varicose veins and you are more likely to have shortness of breath and lower back pain.
If you did exercise before you became pregnant, you can continue at the same level but listen to your body and slow down when you feel uncomfortable.
If you didn’t exercise before you became pregnant, you don’t have to take up organised exercise classes, the important thing is to be active.
Do think about what you eat
Some foods carry a small risk of infections, such as toxoplasmosis or listeriosis. Others can give you food poisoning, such as salmonella. Others have too much vitamin A or mercury, which can harm your developing
Listeria infection is rare but if you get it can severely damage your unborn baby. Foods that are more likely to carry listeria:
- mould‑ripened soft cheese, such as Camembert or Brie, and soft blue‑veined cheese (there is no risk with hard cheese such as cheddar, parmesan or stilton, or with cottage cheese or processed cheese)
- pâté (even vegetable pâté)
- unpasteurised milk
Salmonella food poisoning is unlikely to harm your baby, but it can give you a severe bout of diarrhoea and vomiting. Foods that are more likely to carry salmonella:
- unpasteurised milk
- avoid eating raw or partially cooked eggs or food that may contain them (such as mayonnaise) unless they are produced under a food safety standard called the British Lion Code of Practice
Toxoplasmosis infection is rare but if you get it can severely damage your unborn baby. Foods that are more likely to carry the toxoplasma parasite:
- uncooked or undercooked ready‑prepared meals
- raw or partially cooked meat, especially poultry
- unwashed vegetables and salad
- cured or fermented meat (these can made safe by freezing or cooking before eating)
Too much vitamin A can affect your developing baby.
Foods that have high doses of vitamin A are:
- liver and liver products
- high-dose multivitamin supplements, fish liver oil supplements, or any supplements containing vitamin A.
Too much mercury and other pollutants, such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
If you eat the following you are at risk of eating too much mercury and other substances that may harm your growing baby:
- shark, swordfish or marlin
- more than two tuna steaks a week (about 140g cooked or 170g raw each)
- more than four medium-sized cans of tuna a week
- more than two portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, trout, mackerel and herring.
Do eat fish within the limits above though as it's a good source of nutrition for your baby.
Do carry your pregnancy notes
It is recommended to carry your antenatal notes everywhere you go as they contain all your medical and pregnancy history. This is particularly important if you need to go to the maternity unit, especially at short notice, as this is the only way health professionals will have access to all your history and what has been happening in your pregnancy.
Do take any overseas holidays before 37 weeks
Women have said that the best time in pregnancy for overseas holidays is the middle of pregnancy. Nausea and tiredness are common in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and the risk of miscarriage is also higher in the first three months (this is not linked to travelling). Travelling in the final months of pregnancy can be tiring and uncomfortable.
If you decide to travel later in pregnancy:
- check your plans with airline. The likelihood of going into labour is higher after 37 weeks and some airlines will not let you fly. After week 28 of pregnancy, the airline may ask for a letter from your doctor or midwife confirming your due date, and that you aren't at risk of complications
- check your plans with your travel insurer. Is pregnancy covered in the event of an accident
Long-distance travel (five hours or more) also carries a small risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT or blood clots) so drink plenty of water and try and move around during the flight.
Smoking is a major modifiable risk factor (something you can change) for all sorts of health problems for your baby. It’s never too late to stop. Think about getting support, as this has been shown to make staying off cigarettes more likely.
Don’t drink alcohol
Don’t drink alcohol, especially in the first trimester when the baby’s brain is going through a period of intense development.
Don’t take drugs
Cocaine, meta-amphetamines, cannabis, psychoactive substances (so called ‘legal highs’) are all likely to increase risks of health problems.
If you are taking illegal drugs it is really important to talk to your midwife or doctor. They will not judge you and can give you the right care and support during your pregnancy. The more they know, the more they can help you and your baby to get the right treatment.
Don’t drink (or eat) too much caffeine
More than 60% of women who checked their caffeine intake on our caffeine calculator were surprised to find that they were over the limit. High levels of caffeine during pregnancy can result in low birth weight babies, which can increase the risk of health problems in later life. Too much caffeine has also been linked to miscarriage.
Don’t diet in pregnancy
Cutting out food groups may deprive your baby against nutrients they need for growth.