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From the minute you find out you’re pregnant, your brain gets flooded with questions. From what to eat and what to avoid, how to deal with morning sickness and pregnancy constipation, and which types of activities are safe, there’s a lot to think about.
When it comes to having a healthy pregnancy, you already know that smoking, vaping, alcohol and certain medications are off limits. Yet there are other unhealthy habits to avoid during pregnancy because they could affect you and your baby’s health now and down the line. Here are 6.
1. Eating too much
According to a recent survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC), only 13 percent of people say they always stop eating when they’ve had enough, a trend which is affecting how many women start out their pregnancies.
In fact, only 45 percent of women have a normal weight when they become pregnant and new research suggests, when it comes to a woman’s risk for complications, pre-pregnancy weight is more important than pregnancy weight gain.
Weight gain is associated with a higher risk for gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, sleep apnea, preterm birth, birth defects, problems during labor and delivery and a higher risk for c-sections.
Research also suggests babies born to obese moms are more likely to be overweight themselves and may be at risk for poor developmental outcomes.
Excess weight gain can also make it harder to lose the weight after you give birth.
In the first trimester, you actually don’t need to consume extra calories. If you have a normal body mass index (BMI), an extra 340 calories a day during the second trimester and an extra 450 calories a day in the third trimester is appropriate, according to the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
If you’re carrying twins or multiples, or you’re underweight, overweight or obese when you become pregnant, you should talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian nutritionist to make sure you’re getting the right amount of calories for a healthy weight gain.
2. Not eating enough
It should come as no surprise that dieting is one of the unhealthy habits to avoid during pregnancy.
While most women gain too much weight during pregnancy, a June 2017 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found 23 percent of women don’t gain enough to meet the recommendations.
Of course this could be due to hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), or extreme morning sickness, a loss of appetite or a medical condition, but some women may actually restrict their calories.
In fact, one survey found nearly 50 percent of pregnant women admitted to cutting calories, eliminating entire food groups and eating a lot of low-calorie and low-fat foods. A few women said they even turned to fasting, cleansing, purging and using diet pills and laxatives.
Low pregnancy weight gain is associated with delivering a premature baby, a baby who is too small and may have difficulty starting breastfeeding, and an increased risk for illness and developmental delays, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Low pregnancy weight gain can also increase a child’s risk for obesity.
According to a September 2014 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, women who had a normal body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy and gained less than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy were 63 percent more likely to have a child who was overweight or obese compared to women who gained the recommended amount of weight.
You might be worried about gaining too much pregnancy weight or losing the baby weight after you give birth but pregnancy isn’t the time to diet.
Be sure to check out the pregnancy weight gain recommendations which take into account your pre-pregnancy weight and if you’re having one baby or multiples.
3. Being sedentary
Between morning sickness, mood swings and exhaustion, heading to the gym may not be on the top of your list, but being sedentary—even sitting at a desk all day—can affect your pregnancy and your baby’s health.
According to a March 2017 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, pregnant women spend 50 percent of their time in sedentary behaviors, which is associated with higher levels of high cholesterol, inflammation and fetal macrosomia, or an infant who is born significantly larger—more than 8 pounds, 13 ounces.
Fetal macrosomia affects between 3 and 15 percent of all pregnancies and is associated with pregnancy complications and health risks to the baby.
Gestational diabetes, preeclampsia due to diabetes, having a previous infant with fetal macrosomia, pre-pregnancy weight and pregnancy weight gain are all risk factors.
Yet studies show women who stay active during pregnancy have a lower risk of excess weight gain and macrosomia and are less likely to have a caesarean section.
Establishing an exercise habit during pregnancy will also make it more likely that you’ll stick with it after you deliver—and for years to come.
4. Eating too much fake food and sugar
Cravings for salty and sweet foods may be in full force and although it’s probably OK to indulge occasionally if you have a normal, healthy pregnancy, avoiding fast food, processed, packaged foods and foods high in sugar is ideal.
In fact, an October 2013 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found mothers who eat more unhealthy foods high in sugar, salt and refined carbohydrates have children with increased behavioral problems such as aggression and tantrums.
Eating a healthy pregnancy diet is critical to support your baby’s growth and development and prevent pregnancy complications.
5. Overdoing the coffee
If you’re like me and can’t talk to anyone in the morning until you’ve had a cup of coffee and then need several more throughout the day, breaking your addiction can be a tough one.
Although the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) say the research is unclear as to whether caffeine consumption increases the risk for miscarriage and preterm birth, they advise pregnant women to limit their overall caffeine consumption from all sources (coffee, tea, soda and chocolate) to 200 milligrams a day.
To put that in perspective, an 8-ounce regular coffee is 95 milligrams of caffeine so have two and you’re at your max for the day. For specific recommendations about caffeine, check out this chart on BabyCenter.com.
6. Letting stress get the best of you
Between your hormones, physical changes and discomforts, and concerns about your pregnancy, labor and delivery, and how your life may change, there’s a lot that can make you feel stressed out.
It’s well known that stress can affect your health, but during pregnancy, it’s even more important to pay attention to.
Not to give you more stress, but stress can lead to high blood pressure and studies suggest high levels of stress, anxiety and depression can increase the risk for pre-term birth.
Finding ways to better cope with stress can help you have a healthy, happy pregnancy and establish a healthy habit when you become a mom.
Carve out time for yourself every day to do deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or meditation, for example.
Go for a massage, take a yoga class, soak in the bath, listen to music, exercise and connect with friends.