10 top tips for a healthy pregnancy

Philippa Hudson finds out the latest recommendations for mums-to-be.

25 February 2008
by The Clicks health team

1. Don’t eat for two

Weight gain of 7-16kg used to be considered acceptable, but internationally this guideline is being revised downwards. Dr Murishe Ledwaba, obstetrician at Park Lane Clinic, says around 12,5kg is fine, provided the woman was not overweight before pregnancy. “Excess weight puts the mother at risk of diabetes and blood pressure problems, and increases the risk of a big baby, which can cause a difficult delivery.”

2. Do choose your exercise type

Avoid sports with a high risk of falling, such as horse-riding. US research suggests that regular runners can safely continue with their sport, but many advise caution – including Dr Ledwaba. “Pregnant women have looser joints and are generally more clumsy, leading to a higher risk of falling and injuring the foetus.” Swimming and walking are better choices.

3. Don’t scuba dive

The changes in pressure encountered by divers can affect the flow of oxygen to the foetus. The baby is also vulnerable to decompression sickness.

4. Do supplement

Pregnancy places unique nutritional demands on your body, so take a multivitamin containing iron and at least 0,4mg per day of folic acid, which aids cell growth and can prevent birth defects. Ask your Clicks pharmacist for advice.

5. Do visit your dentist

Pregnancy hormone levels can cause the gums to swell and trap food, posing a risk of infection that is linked to premature birth. Keep up your routine visits to the dentist, but minimise exposure to x-rays and anaesthetics.

6. Do eat some fish

‘There are very definite health benefits from regular fish intake during pregnancy,’ says Sandton Medi-Clinic’s Dr Nicholas Clark. Fish is an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, boosting baby’s cognitive and motor-skills development. However, some fish contain trace amounts of mercury. ‘Mercury is a worry because it cannot be excreted easily and can accumulate,’ says Dr Clark. ‘Some fish are probably best avoided or eaten in small quantities.’ Avoid shellfish and swordfish, and limit your tuna intake.

8. Do be careful with cats

Cats can be carriers of toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can cause brain damage and eye problems in the foetus. Cats are not infectious all the time: they catch the infection from eating wild animals such as mice and the infection lasts a few weeks. If you already have a cat, get somebody else to change its litter box, because the bugs can survive in the faeces for up to five days. You should also wear gloves when you garden, because soil can contain toxoplasma parasites too.

9. Don’t stop your meds

Some medications cross the placental barrier and cannot be taken during pregnancy but if you are being treated for conditions such as asthma or epilepsy, don’t just stop taking your meds. A leading Cape Town pulmonologist says he has never lost a baby to asthma medication, but he has lost a mother-to-be who stopped using her inhaler and died of an asthma attack. Discuss with your doctor what the safest option is to ensure your own health as well as the baby’s.

10. Do tell your hairdresser

Many hair-treatment products contain ammonia and hydrogen peroxide, which can be harmful to the baby. While only small amounts are absorbed through the skin, there is a risk of inhaling more during the treatment. Avoid having a perm or colouring your hair during the first trimester. Thereafter make sure it is done in a well-ventilated area.