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Pregnancy health centre

Pregnancy care - Lifestyle advice

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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There are a number of things you can do to stay healthy during your pregnancy.

Exercise

It is good to keep active during your pregnancy. It will help you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain and also help you to get back into shape after birth.

You can continue your normal daily physical exercise for as long as you feel comfortable. However, you should not exhaust yourself and you may need to slow down as your pregnancy progresses. If you were not active before your pregnancy, you should not suddenly take up a strenuous exercise programme.

If you start an aerobic exercise programme, begin with no more than 15 minutes' continuous exercise, three times a week. Increase this gradually to a maximum of 30-minute sessions, four times a week. Inform the instructor that you are pregnant.

Some activities are not suitable when you are pregnant because they carry extra risks, such as falling, or they put too much strain on your joints, including:

  • contact sports where there is a risk of being hit, such as kickboxing or judo,
  • racquet games such as badminton or tennis,
  • horse riding, downhill skiing, cycling and any other sport with a risk of falling,
  • scuba diving, because the baby is not protected against decompression sickness and gas embolism, and
  • exercising at heights over 2,500 metres if you are not acclimatised, because of the risk of mountain sickness.

You should also avoid lying on your back, especially after 16 weeks, because your bump can press on big blood vessels and make you feel faint.

See the NHS Choices pregnancy care planner for more information and advice on exercise during your pregnancy.

Alcohol

When you drink, alcohol passes from your blood, through the placenta, to your baby. A baby's liver is one of the last organs to develop fully and does not mature until the latter half of pregnancy. Your baby cannot process alcohol as well as you can and too much alcohol can seriously affect your baby's development.

If you are pregnant, or planning to become pregnant, you should try to avoid alcohol completely for the first three months of your pregnancy because there may be an increased risk of miscarriage.

If you chose to drink during your pregnancy, you should not drink more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week. One unit is equal to half a pint of beer, lager or cider at 3.5%, a single measure of spirit (such as whisky or vodka) at 40% or half a standard (175ml) glass of wine at 11.5%.

You should not get drunk or binge drink while you are pregnant as this can harm your unborn baby. Binge drinking is usually classed as more than six units of alcohol on a single occasion.

Smoking

Smoking during your pregnancy restricts the essential oxygen supply to your baby and increases the risk of it being born underweight or too early. These risks will be reduced if you stop smoking during your pregnancy.

As soon as you stop smoking the carbon monoxide and chemicals clear from your body and your oxygen levels return to normal. You and your baby benefit immediately.

Your midwife or GP should be able to offer advice, information and support to help you stop or cut down on smoking. The NHS Pregnancy Smoking Helpline can also provide help and support - you can call the helpline on 0800 1699 169 or log onto the Smokefree website where you fill in your details and one of the smoking advisors will call you back.

Caffeine

Consuming high levels of caffeine can cause your baby to have a low birth weight, which can increase the risk of health problems later in life. It can also increase the risk of miscarriage.

You do not need to cut out caffeine completely but you should try not to have more than 200mg a day. This is the equivalent of two cups of instant coffee or four small (50g) bars of dark chocolate. For a list of food and drinks that contain caffeine, see the pregnancy care planner.

Cannabis and other illegal drugs

Cannabis and other illegal drugs, such as ecstasy, cocaine and heroin, can harm your baby. If you use any of these drugs then you should talk to your midwife or GP to get advice to help you stop. If you are a dependent drug user, extra support and treatment is available to help you to come off drugs and keep your baby safe.

Work

If you work during your pregnancy, make sure you know your rights to antenatal care, maternity leave and benefits. More details of these can be found on the Department of Work and Pensions website.

It is also important that you make sure your job is not putting the health of you and your baby at risk. Jobs that involve working with chemicals, X-rays or heavy lifting may not be suitable during pregnancy. If you have any worries you can talk to your maternity team, occupational health nurse, union representative or someone in personnel. The Health and Safety Executive can also give you more information.

If you do carry on working during your pregnancy, you may get very tired, especially in the first and last weeks of your pregnancy. Make sure you try to rest in your lunch break and when you get home in the evening.

Sex

There is no evidence that sexual activity is harmful while you are pregnant. However, it is normal for your sex drive to change through your pregnancy and you may want to talk to your partner about this.

Although it is safe, it may not be easy to have sex and you and your partner may have to find different positions that are more comfortable for you both.

Travel

Flying is not harmful for you or your baby, but some airlines will not let you fly towards the end of your pregnancy. You should check the terms and conditions of an airline before flying with them.

Long-distance travel (longer than five hours) carries a small risk of thrombosis (blood clots) in pregnant women. If you fly, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and do the recommended calf exercises.
You can buy a pair of support stockings in the pharmacy over the counter, which will reduce leg swelling.

Before you travel, think about your destination. Could you get medical help if you needed it? Are any vaccinations needed which might be harmful to the pregnancy?

Road accidents are among the most common causes of injury in pregnant women. To protect yourself and your baby, always wear your seatbelt with the diagonal strap across your body between your breasts and with the lap belt over your upper thighs. The straps should lie above and below your bump, not over it.

In most cases, if you are well and healthy and take necessary precautions, there should be no reason not to travel.

Medicines

Some medicines can harm your baby's health but some are safe, for example medication to treat long-term conditions such as asthma, thyroid disease, diabetes and epilepsy. Always check with your GP, midwife or pharmacist before taking any kind of medication.

Use as few over-the-counter medicines as possible during your pregnancy. Your GP should only prescribe you medication where the benefits of taking the medication outweigh the possible risks of not.

Complementary medicines

Few complementary and alternative therapies have been established as safe during pregnancy. If you do decide to have any kind of complementary treatment contact the Institute for Complementary Medicine first to make sure the practitioner is fully qualified. You should make sure a practitioner knows you are pregnant before having any treatment. Tell your midwife or doctor if you are prescribed any herbal, homeopathic or aromatherapy remedies.

Medical Review: February 22, 2010
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