Planning a family involves a lot of groundwork—and for women that means staying healthy both during and after a pregnancy. But women should strive to be as healthy as they can before becoming pregnant as well: The Centers for Disease Control suggest that preconception health care can help a woman become healthier, but can also help avoid certain birth defects. And because a woman’s body goes through a wide array of changes throughout her pregnancy, it’s also critical that she does as much as she can to ensure the health of herself and her child.
Diet and exercise are essential for a healthy body, but it’s even more important for women planning a family to stay in shape. Women preparing for pregnancy may not believe that their health before pregnancy makes a difference, but being pregnant requires a great amount of energy and changes the body substantially—and starting with a healthy body can help women stay healthy during pregnancy as well as after the baby is born.
In addition to exercising and eating right to maintain a healthy weight, women are encouraged to take supplements like folic acid to help a baby’s brain and spinal cord. In addition to quitting drinking and smoking, women preparing to become pregnant should also avoid stress and, if they can, explore the genetic history of both her and the potential father’s families.
Each woman’s pregnancies are different—in fact, many women who have more than one child may experience wildly different pregnancies. Weight gain is normal, but too much weight gain can endanger the health of the mother; according to WomensHealth.gov, women of normal weight should gain between 25 and 30 pounds during pregnancy.
Because complications like anemia, high blood pressure and gestational diabetes can occur in even the healthiest women, it’s important to visit a doctor throughout the pregnancy. If a woman experiences extreme discomfort, fatigue, nausea or pain during her pregnancy, it may be necessary to consult specialists to evaluate the problem.
After giving birth
A woman’s body changes significantly after childbirth: symptoms from continued weight gain to depression are common after a pregnancy. Women who breastfeed need extra nutrition, and should eat foods that are rich in protein, iron and calcium. Staying hydrated is also important, and women should drink lots of water and eat foods high in fiber to avoid constipation. Finally, refraining from drinking or smoking is a must, whether women are breastfeeding or not.
Having a child is an important decision, and one that brings both joy and stress to parents. Mothers owe it to themselves and their children to be as healthy as they can, during pregnancy and beyond.