Staying healthy in pregnancy

Keeping yourself healthy is essential to the good health of your baby. Women who eat well and exercise regularly along with regular antenatal care, are less likely to have complications during pregnancy. They are also more likely to successfully give birth to a healthy baby.

Healthy diet and lifestyle

In every day life it can be difficult for women to focus on a healthy diet and lifestyle. Following ten simple steps can help women to achieve optimum health for themselves and their baby during pregnancy and beyond:

  1. Take a daily supplement of 10µg vitamin D throughout pregnancy and 400µg folic acid up until at least the 12th week of pregnancy. Some women will be prescribed 5mg folic acid per day instead of 400µg.
  2. Keep physically active throughout pregnancy, aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity on 5 or more days per week. Physical activity has a wide range of health benefits – for your mind as well as your body.
  3. A healthy weight gain during pregnancy depends on your pre-pregnancy weight and height. Expect to gain only 1-4 pounds (0.5-2kg) in the 1st trimester and the rest over the 2nd and 3rd trimesters.
  4. Choose nutritious foods, not extra foods. Extra energy (eg half a sandwich each day) is only needed during the last trimester.
  5. Balance your diet. Base each meal on wholegrain starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes, pasta or breakfast cereals and include:
    • 3 servings of milk, hard cheese or yogurt each day for calcium and iodine
    • at least 1 vegetable and 1 fruit in both main meals and include fruit (fresh, canned or dried rather than juice) with breakfast
    • meat, fish, eggs, nuts or pulses at 2-3 meals each day for iron
  6. Eat fish twice a week with one or two servings being oily fish for omega 3 fats – if you don’t eat fish take a daily supplement of 200mg DHA but avoid fish liver oil supplements.
  7. Choose nutritious snacks such as fruit, nuts, yogurt, a sandwich or toast rather than food or drink high in sugar or fat.
  8. Have about 6-8 drinks (1.5 -2 litres) per day for good hydration - water is a good choice. Limit caffeine to 200mg per day (about 1 shot of espresso or 2 mugs of instant coffee, or 2.5 mugs of tea)
  9. Food safety. Thoroughly cook meat, fish and eggs; wash all soil from vegetables and fruit, and avoid vitamin A supplements, liver, liver pate, unpasteurised dairy products, soft and blue cheeses, swordfish, marlin and shark; limit tinned tuna to 4 small servings per week.
  10. Seek Support to stop smoking or misusing drugs or medication and avoid alcohol.

(Download these 10 steps for a healthy pregnancy and a booklet from the Infant and Toddler Forum)

Alcohol and pregnancy

Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink the greater the risk. The Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend that if you’re pregnant, or planning to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.

Should you choose to drink after the first three months of your pregnancy, you should not drink more than one or two units, and not drink more than once or twice per week.

For clear advice about alcohol and pregnancy visit the Drinkaware website.

Smoking and pregnancy

We know that it can be difficult to stop smoking. But we also know that you want to give your baby the best possible start in life.

The risks of smoking during pregnancy are serious, from premature delivery to increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or sudden infant death. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you and your partner can do to help your baby develop healthily during pregnancy and beyond. For more help and advice visit the NHS Smoke Free website.

Mental health and pregnancy

Having a baby is a big life event, and it’s natural to experience a range of emotions and reactions during and after your pregnancy. But if they start to have a big impact on how you live your life, you might be experiencing a mental health problem. Around one in five women will experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth. This might be a new mental health problem or another episode of a mental health problem you have experienced before. These are known as perinatal mental health problems. For more information, click here

If you have in the past, or now have, severe mental health problems, you are more likely to become ill during pregnancy or in the first year after giving birth than at other times in your life. Sometimes people who have a mental health problem stop taking their medication. If you do this without talking to your doctor or midwife when you become pregnant, this can make your illness return or get worse, so it’s important to talk to them before making any changes.

Other less severe mental health problems may also become more problematic during these times, though this might not necessarily happen to you. Everyone is different, with different triggers for becoming unwell. Women may feel more vulnerable and anxious while pregnant and after birth, so your midwife, GP and health visitor should ask you about your mental health. There is help and support, so don’t be afraid to talk about how you are feeling with your midwife, GP or psychiatrist – they will be happy to discuss your particular problem and care with you.

When you have your first antenatal appointment, you should be asked if you've ever had problems with your mental health in the past.

Find out more about mental health problems and pregnancy.

A series of 'Out of the Blue' (click here to view) films have been developed with those who have experienced mental health problems in pregnancy which aim to help you to look after your mental health, and your loved ones’ mental health, and to recognise the signs and symptoms that mean you or they might need support.

Congenital heart disease and pregnancy

If you have had previous heart surgery and follow up by the cardiology team, we recommend that before you become pregnant, you discuss with them whether any special care would be helpful, either before the pregnancy begins, or once you become pregnant.

For mothers with heart conditions in pregnancy, living in Wessex (Dorset, Hampshire, IOW), a regional service is provided in the form of a clinic organised jointly by cardiologists and obstetricians. This is held at the Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton. Either your cardiologist or your GP can refer you there for advice and support if needed.

If you have a congenital heart problem and wish to become, or you are already pregnant, there are specific issues you may need to consider and be aware of - click here for some useful information which will hopefully be helpful to you.

What support is available?

  • Sign-up to the essential guide for pregnancy and lots of free tools for having a healthy, happy baby and becoming a healthy, happy family - and give your baby the best start4life.
  • Find out if you are eligible for free vouchers every week to spend on milk, plain fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables, and infant formula milk, through healthy start
  • Download the 'Baby Buddy' phone app to guide you through your pregnancy and the first six months of your baby's life. It has been designed to help you give your baby the best start in life and support your health and wellbeing.

Advice from other mothers

Watch videos of real women and experts discuss all aspects of having a baby. From pregnancy and labour, to breastfeeding and staying well. Includes real stories, covering topics such as going to antenatal classes, coping with morning sickness, postnatal depression and vaccines.

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