Pregnancy and Wellness
Pregnancy is supposed to be a really positive time in any woman’s life.
Unfortunately, for many people, this just is not the case. From morning sickness to anaemia and tiredness, pregnancy affects your health, and it affects some people much more than others.
This page provides a guide to keeping well during pregnancy, with some practical tips about how to manage the more common problems.
Common Ailments During Pregnancy
Everyone knows, or thinks they know, about morning sickness. Sadly, though, many of the common perceptions about it are inaccurate.
For a start, many people really are physically sick, and not just first thing in the morning. It affects some people constantly during the first few months of pregnancy and, for an unlucky few, for significantly longer. Travelling, especially on public transport, and in the heat, can make it much worse.
Eating something does help some people. Many people swear by ginger biscuits; other people find they just need to eat regularly, in small amounts.
But some people cannot eat anything at all and, in rare cases, may need to be admitted to hospital to rehydrate.
Morning sickness is often made worse by the fact that many women do not want to admit to being pregnant during the first three months.
If you’re suffering, and it is affecting your ability to work, tell your boss in confidence. You may be able to start work later, or even work from home for a while to avoid travelling.
Anaemia and Other Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
Your developing baby is extremely good at getting everything he or she needs from you, regardless of whether you are eating enough or taking in enough vitamins and minerals.
You may therefore develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies such as anaemia. These may not be obvious: you may just be very tired or find it difficult to think clearly, which you may put down to being pregnant.
It can therefore be a good idea to continue to take a pregnancy-specific vitamin and mineral supplement throughout your pregnancy.
If you weren’t already taking folic acid when you found out you were pregnant, it’s a good idea to start immediately you know.
‘Baby brain’ is the phrase used to describe difficulty thinking or remembering things that many pregnant women claim to experience.
Scientists have apparently comprehensively proven that it does not exist, which is not much comfort to anyone who is struggling with the symptoms.
As we mentioned above, anaemia and other vitamin and mineral deficiencies may manifest as inability to think clearly and in tiredness. A regular supplement may therefore help.
Many women report being very tired during pregnancy, especially in the first and last trimesters.
If this is you, give yourself a break. Don’t try to keep going because your body is trying to tell you something, and that something is that you need to rest. Go to bed earlier, do less and, if necessary, take some time off work. Again, a vitamin supplement and/or eating well may help but it is probably not the whole answer.
Serious Illnesses and Complications
There are a number of serious illnesses and complications that can develop during pregnancy, including pre-eclampsia.
Other diseases are much more severe during pregnancy, such as chlamydia, or chickenpox. These can have serious effects on both you and your baby so if you feel unwell, or think something is wrong, go and see your doctor or midwife as soon as possible.
You are the best judge of whether something is wrong and/or different, so believe yourself. Your doctor is unlikely to take any chances when you’re pregnant.
For more information about infections that can harm your baby, see the NHS Choices page about infections during pregnancy.
NHS Choices also contains more about pregnancy, including common ailments.
You may have heard of toxoplasmosis in the context of cat litter and/or dog mess near children’s playgrounds.
Toxoplasmosis is a relatively common infection caused by a parasite carried in cat faeces and on some raw meats. Normally, it is not a problem, and often does not even cause symptoms.
Toxoplasmosis is, however, a serious issue during pregnancy because it can cause miscarriage or stillbirth.
Pregnant women should, therefore, avoid cat faeces and be careful handling raw meat.
In practice, this means:
- Wear gloves if you are emptying a cat litter tray, or get your partner to do it for a while;
- Wear gloves for gardening to avoid accidental contact with cat mess;
- Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating them;
- Wash your hands and all utensils carefully after handling raw meat; and
- Wash your hands before handling food.
Eating for Two
Much of the medical advice about pregnancy suggests that women do not need to eat more while pregnant, despite all the stories about ‘eating for two’.
The problem is that many women find that they are:
- much hungrier than normal when pregnant and
- prone to feeling very sick if they do not eat at least every two hours.
Quite why this is the case is not clear, and medical science does not seem to have a simple answer. One possibility is that your body is trying to build up fat reserves to support breastfeeding. Another is that you are physically stressed, which often leads to wanting to eat more.
Whatever the reason, you will have to find a way of eating that works for you. Some people just accept that they will put on weight, and stop worrying. Others adopt practices like eating much smaller meals more often.
Remember though that it is important to eat a healthy, balanced diet while pregnant.
For more about this, see our pages on Diet and Nutrition.
You will probably find that you do want to eat certain foods more than others, and possibly even some very unsuitable things.
Do listen to your body, but don’t let cravings get the better of common sense. However much you want to eat chocolate, it does not provide essential nutrients that your body needs!
Pregnancy and Exercise
Most authorities generally agree that you should continue to exercise during pregnancy. The key word there, though, is ‘continue’. Now is not the time to embark on a major fitness kick.
For a start, you won’t have the energy, but it’s also not good for you because your ligaments are more elastic during pregnancy and you can injure yourself. It is therefore also a good idea not to take up a new form of exercise because you will be using different muscles and, again, may injure yourself.
If you already exercise regularly, you can and should continue to do so. But don’t run away with the idea that you will be able to sustain your previous pace. You won’t. Your blood has further to go around your body and there is much more of it.
You simply will not be able to exercise at the same intensity.
Gentle, regular exercise is recommended throughout pregnancy. Walking and swimming are reckoned to be good, or just continue with what you were doing before but at lower intensity.
For more general advice on exercise see our page: The Importance of Exercise
A Guide to Pregnancy for Expectant Dads
Many prospective fathers find that they feel a bit left out during their partner’s pregnancy. They would very much like to be involved, and they will be once the baby arrives, but in the meantime their partner is doing all the work. Many women, too, become very focused on their growing ‘bump’, which can also lead to their partners feeling a bit neglected.
As a general guide, remember that however weird you are finding pregnancy, she is finding it much stranger.
Her body has been taken over by a little alien, she may feel very unlike herself, and her hormones are also likely to be very unsettled.
It is almost impossible to generalise about what support she will need. The best thing you can do is to ask, and respond to what she seems to need.
The important thing is to keep communicating. If you can do that now, there is some hope that you will also manage it after the baby arrives.
There is specific support that you can provide, including:
- If your partner is suffering from sickness, she may not feel up to cooking or preparing meals of any sort. Even if this isn’t normally part of your routine, it may be helpful to do a bit more in the kitchen, or perhaps buy a few more ready meals or takeaways.
- There are things that your partner should not do while pregnant, such as emptying the cat litter. If you take on these chores, and make sure you remember to do them, she won’t have to think about them, and that will help a lot.
- You can help to sort out the baby’s bedroom, including any painting, furniture-buying and so on.
- Don’t assume that your partner will feel up to doing anything, even if it is something that you have planned together, and have been looking forward to doing. She may just want to spend the day lying down.
Finally, don’t expect your partner to be reasonable about anything.
She is likely to be tired and emotional, and reason is not necessarily a key part of pregnancy. It can be, so don’t assume she’ll be totally unreasonable, it’s just that it’s best to start with low expectations.
“I’m Not Ill, Just Pregnant”
You may not be ill but, as many women will tell you, pregnancy often feels like it!
You are not obliged to continue regardless of how you feel, just because you are pregnant and not ill. You do, in fact, need to look after both yourself and your baby. Sometimes that means carrying on, but sometimes it means resting and relaxing a bit more than usual.
If that’s what you need, then just do it.