Health during pregnancy

Knowing what to eat and drink, what supplements to take and what to avoid goes a long way to ensuring the health of both you and your baby during pregnancy.

Guidance for pregnant women and information on what is happening in their regional unit during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak can be found on NI Maternity

Folic acid

If you are planning to have a baby or discover you are pregnant, it is recommended that you start taking 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day, as early as possible. You should continue to do so until you are 12 weeks pregnant.

This vitamin is known to reduce the risk of spina bifida. If you have diabetes, epilepsy, coeliac disease or a family history of spina bifida, you may need to have a higher dose of folic acid (5mg) prescribed by your doctor.

Vitamin D

You need vitamin D to keep your bones healthy and to provide your baby with enough vitamin D for the first months of their life. To read more about vitamin D, go to:

What to eat

When pregnant, or trying to get pregnant, your diet should include plenty of protein, fibre, calcium, iron and other minerals and vitamins.

These can all be found in the following foods:

  • fruit and vegetables (aim for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day)
  • starchy foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes
  • dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt
  • lean meat and chicken
  • wholegrain bread and pulses
  • fish - two servings a week (try to include oily fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel)

Don't eat more than two servings per week of oily fish. You should also avoid eating too much fresh tuna, which is high in mercury levels and can harm the baby’s nervous system.

Avoiding iron deficiency

Pregnant women can become deficient in iron so it is important to eat plenty of iron-rich foods. A good intake of vitamin C through fruit, vegetables and juice helps your body to absorb iron. If your iron level is low, your doctor or midwife will advise you to take iron supplements.

The following foods will help you to keep your iron level normal:

  • red meat
  • pulses
  • bread
  • dark, leafy green vegetables
  • citrus foods
  • breakfast cereals with added vitamins and minerals

To read more about iron deficiency anaemia, go to:

Food and drink to avoid

Some food and drinks which are usually harmless can cause problems during pregnancy.

To be on the safe side, make sure you avoid:

  • pate (including vegetable pate)
  • mould-ripened soft cheese (for example Brie, Camembert, goat's cheese)
  • unpasteurised milk (which can contain salmonella)
  • liver or liver products (due to high vitamin A content)
  • shark, swordfish and marlin (all contain high levels of mercury)
  • too much caffeine (have no more than three cups of coffee, or six cups of tea a day- caffeine interferes with absorption of iron from food)
  • alcohol
  • raw eggs and food containing raw or partly cooked eggs (to avoid salmonella)

Although liver is a good source of iron, pregnant women should avoid eating it because it is high in vitamin A.

Exercising during pregnancy

Regular physical activity during pregnancy improves mood, sleep and fitness.
Exercise also:

  • helps prevent gestational diabetes
  • controls weight gain
  • reduces hypertensive disorders

Exercise improves your circulation, which is good for both you and the baby. Giving birth is physically demanding. By keeping fit, you will be better equipped to give birth. 

It's important to ask your doctor for advice before starting physical exercise. If you aren't active already, start gradually and build exercise into your day.

Moderate intensity activity

During pregnancy, you should try to do moderate intensity activity for at least 150 minutes every week. Moderate intensity activity is an activity that makes you breathe faster.

Looking after your health when exercising

When exercising during pregnancy, you should:

  • listen to your body
  • stop if you feel uncomfortable
  • ask your doctor or midwife for advice

Don't exercise for more than an hour especially in hot weather. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Ways to keep fit during pregnancy

Swimming, walking, cycling or climbing stairs are good ways to keep fit during pregnancy. A short ten-minute swim or a swift 30 minute walk are ideal. Be careful not to overdo exercising. Your heart rate should never get above 140 beats per minute. 

Sports and activities to avoid during pregnancy

You should avoid activities where there is a high risk of trauma or injury to you and the baby.

Don't do:

  • contact sports
  • downhill skiing
  • scuba diving

If you weren't active before pregnancy, running, jogging, racquet sports or strenuous strength training mightn't be suitable exercise for you.

Start active, Stay active

To read more about physical activity for health, go to:

Contact with animals during pregnancy

There are certain animals and products associated with animals you should avoid when pregnant. Cats' faeces may contain a disease that could damage your baby, so:

  • avoid emptying litter trays, or wear disposable rubber gloves
  • clean litter trays daily by soaking them with boiling water for ten minutes
  • avoid close contact with sick cats
  • wear gloves when gardening, even if you don't have a cat in case the soil is contaminated with faeces

Also, avoid lambing, milking ewes and all newborn lambs. It is also best to avoid pigs or pigs faeces.

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