Prenatal health and your baby
Did you know that having a healthy pregnancy and baby actually starts before you get pregnant? Taking care of yourself when you’re thinking about becoming pregnant is important. Some things to consider:
- Eat healthy foods and get regular exercise. Canada’s Food Guide offers tips and advice for healthy eating at all stages of life.
- Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, 5 days a week.
- Make sure your vaccines are up-to-date. Check with your doctor to ensure you are properly protected against illnesses like rubella, chickenpox and influenza. Getting a flu shot is especially important for pregnant women, who are at higher risk for complications. Getting these vaccines will help protect your baby.
- Talk to your doctor about any prescription drugs you are taking to find out whether they are safe during pregnancy.
Vitamins before pregnancy:
If you are planning to get pregnant, you should be taking folic acid. Folic acid (also called folate or folacin) is a vitamin that helps a baby’s neural tube develop properly during pregnancy. The neural tube becomes your baby’s brain and spinal cord. Neural tube defects (NTD) result from openings in the spinal cord that do not close properly during early pregnancy, causing spina bifida and anencephaly. Folic acid protects against NTDs and can also lessen the risk of other problems at birth, such as cleft palates or heart, genital and urinary defects.
- Although certain foods (fortified grains, spinach, lentils, chick peas, asparagus, broccoli, peas, Brussels sprouts, corn, and oranges) have folic acid, it can be hard to get enough from diet alone.
- Most healthy women should take a daily multivitamin with 0.4-1.0 mg of folic acid, for at least 2 to 3 months before getting pregnant, throughout pregnancy, and then after birth for as long as they breastfeed.
- Women who have diabetes or epilepsy, and women with a family history of NTDs (a sibling, parent or cousin with the condition), or who have already had a baby with an NTD need a higher dosage, and should supplement their diet with between 0.8 and 4 mg of folic acid daily.
- Talk to your health care professional if you aren’t sure how much you should take.
Vitamins during pregnancy:
- You should take a multivitamin during pregnancy that includes between 16 and 20 mg of iron.
- You should also take vitamin D. Your doctor may recommend up to 2000 IU/day. Not getting enough vitamin D during pregnancy will affect how much vitamin D your baby has at birth. A baby born to a mother who is vitamin D deficient is more likely to have vitamin D deficiency (rickets).
- Cow’s milk, margarine and some soy beverages produced in Canada are fortified with vitamin D. But even if you use these products, you may still not be getting enough vitamin D, especially if you aren’t getting much exposure to sunlight or your skin is covered much of the time outside.
How much weight should I gain during my pregnancy?
Weight gain is an important part of supporting your growing baby and placenta, which provides your baby with the nutrients he needs. Women who gain the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy have fewer complications that can lead to things like caesarean section, high blood pressure, and low or high birth weight for your baby.
How much should I eat during pregnancy?
Your baby is counting on you to provide all the nutrients she needs to grow healthy and strong. Making smart choices about food will help you both stay healthy during and after pregnancy. Also, be sure to prepare food carefully so that you avoid illnesses such as listeriosis or salmonella infection.
Canada’s Food Guide suggests how much you should eat from each food group:
|Vegetables and fruit are a source of vitamins, minerals and fibre.||7-8 servings/day||Choose at least one dark green and one orange vegetable or fruit every day.|
|Grain products are an important source of energy from carbohydrates.||6-7 servings/day||Make at least half of the grain products whole grain.|
|Milk and alternatives are nutritious sources of calories, as well as calcium and vitamin D. Some alternatives (such as fortified soy beverage) have vitamin D added. Check labels for calcium and vitamin D content.||2 servings/day||Drink skim, 1% or 2% cow’s milk or fortified soy beverage each day.|
|Meat and alternatives are important sources of iron and protein.||2 servings/day||Choose a variety of lean meat, poultry, and de-boned fish, eggs, tofu, dried peas, beans and lentils. At least 2 servings of fish /week are recommended.|
|Oils and fats||2-3 tbsp a day|
Canada’s Food Guide also recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women consume an extra 2-3 servings from any one of the 4 food groups every day during the second and third trimester. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Is a vegetarian diet safe?
A well-planned vegetarian diet can be healthy during pregnancy. Vegetarians need more iron in their diet because they absorb less iron from the food they eat. If you are vegetarian, it is recommended that you talk to your health care provider early in your pregnancy to get specific advice on your iron needs. Protein intake should also be monitored.
What about a vegan diet?
Strict vegans who are pregnant need to pay careful attention to their intake of protein, zinc, iron, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids.
What about a gluten-free diet?
A gluten-free diet tends to be lower in B-vitamins and folate. Taking a daily prenatal multivitamin with B-vitamins and a minimum of 0.4 to 1.0 mg of folic acid is very important if you are eating a gluten-free diet.
Is there anything I should avoid consuming while pregnant?
- No amount of alcohol is considered safe during pregnancy.
- Fish with higher levels of mercury (such as shark, swordfish and fresh or frozen tuna) should be avoided, because mercury can harm a developing baby.
- Health Canada advises women who are or may become pregnant as well as breastfeeding women to limit their intake of canned albacore tuna to no more than 300 grams (10 ounces) per week. Canned light tuna contains other species of tuna such as skipjack, yellowfin, and tongol, which are low in mercury. Pregnant women (and all others) do not have to limit the amount they eat of these types of canned tuna.
- Raw fish (especially shellfish such as oysters and clams), which may contain bacteria or parasites that can make you sick.
- Limit caffeine, and consider cutting it out of your diet completely while pregnant.
- Unpasteurized milk, cheese, and dairy products
- Soft cheeses (like Brie or Camembert), even if pasteurized
- Uncooked hot dogs, non-dried deli-meats, refrigerated pâté, meat spreads and refrigerated smoked seafood and fish are all associated with an increased risk of food poisoning
- Raw egg, egg dishes with runny yolk (e.g. eggnog)
- Raw or undercooked meat or poultry
- Unpasteurized juices like apple cider
- Raw sprouts
- Certain herbs (e.g., aloe, black and blue cohosh, coltsfoot, comfrey, dong quai, evening primrose oil, lemon balm)
Can I eat nuts?
Yes (unless you are allergic). Eating peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy may reduce your baby’s risk of developing a nut allergy.
How can I stay active during pregnancy?
Staying active during your pregnancy will help ease your aches and pains and may help with your mood. It’s also a good way to ensure you have the energy you need for your pregnancy and delivery. Some suggestions for physical activity include:
- regular walking
- low-impact aerobics
- prenatal exercise classes
If you weren’t already active before your pregnancy, start slowly and speak to your health care provider before starting a new exercise routine.
Can I drink alcohol while I am pregnant?
If you drink alcohol during your pregnancy, the alcohol goes to the baby through your bloodstream. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), a serious condition that can affect a child for life. There is no known safe amount of alcohol in pregnancy.
If you are thinking about getting pregnant, it’s best to stop drinking alcohol now. Then you’ll know for sure that your baby will be safe from FASD. Women who find it hard to stop drinking, or who already have a child with FASD, should get help before getting pregnant.
Can I smoke or take recreational drugs while I am pregnant?
Avoid smoking and drug use during pregnancy – including marijuana. These can be dangerous to your growing baby and increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Avoid second-hand smoke, as well.
If you are thinking about getting pregnant, it’s best to stop drinking alcohol, smoking or using recreational drugs now. Then you’ll know for sure that your baby will be safe.
If you are already pregnant, you should stop drinking alcohol, smoking or using recreational drugs completely.
How long can I work?
Most women with uncomplicated pregnancies are “fit to work” until the start of labour. However, if your work is hard on your body – including activities such as standing for a long time, frequent stooping, bending, climbing, or lifting – or involves contact with chemicals, solvents, fumes or radiation, speak with your health care professional for guidance.
What is the safest way to use a seatbelt?
Place the lap belt below your belly, low and snug on your hip bones; never across your belly. The shoulder belt should fit snugly across the centre of your shoulder and chest. As your belly grows, remember to move your seat back to maintain a safe distance from the air bag.
More information from the CPS
Reviewed by the following CPS committees
- Public Education Advisory Committee
Last updated: March 2017