When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I was like many first time moms trying to read everything I could about how to have a healthy pregnancy. From what to eat and what to avoid, which exercises were safe and the healthy habits to start during pregnancy, there’s a ton of information.
Learning as much as you can is a great idea, but also keep in mind that every pregnancy is different so give yourself grace.
While your original goal may have been to completely overhaul your diet for example, between morning sickness and food aversions, saltine crackers may be all you can stomach right now.
Still, there are so many small changes you can make during your pregnancy that can have a long-lasting, positive impact on you and your baby. Read on for 9 healthy habits to start during pregnancy.
1. EAT MORE REAL FOODS
If you’re feeling nauseous or have some pretty strong pregnancy cravings, it can be challenging to eat healthy, especially during your first trimester.
Yet doing your best to focus on real, whole foods and limit the amount of processed foods is the key to a healthy pregnancy.
Eating a healthy, whole foods diet will help satisfy your hunger, keep your blood sugar levels steady and help fight fatigue.
Eating a whole-foods diet can also help you avoid gaining more than the recommended amount of weight, and can help reduce the risk of complications.
Interestingly, eating healthy foods may encourage your child to have healthy eating habits. In fact, a 2001 study in the journal Pediatrics found that babies whose mothers drank carrot juice during the last trimester of pregnancy had fewer negative reactions when they were fed carrot-flavored cereal when they were weaning.
Adopting a healthy, whole-foods diet during pregnancy also establishes a habit you can stick with after your baby is born and that you can model for your family.
Aim to consume between 2 to 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruits, as well as lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats to get the nutrition you need.
2. DRINK UP
Staying hydrated during pregnancy aids digestion and the absorption of nutrients, supports your baby’s circulation, your amniotic fluid, and higher blood volume.
Drinking enough water can also help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), constipation, headaches, and swelling.
According to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, women should drink between 8 to 10 glasses of water a day during pregnancy. Also, be sure to drink water before, during, and after your workouts.
Drinking plenty of water can also help you lose the baby weight, give you a boost of energy, and is overall one of the best healthy habits to start during pregnancy.
3. TRY MEAL PLANNING
Picking out the perfect stroller, shopping for baby clothes, and setting up the nursery all take time, but getting in the habit of meal planning is also a great idea to start while you’re pregnant.
Once your baby is born and you’re in the midst of 24/7 feedings, diaper changes, and sleepless nights, it will be a lot more challenging to make healthy meals.
There are different ways to meal plan. For example, you can batch cook vegetables and grains or make freezer meals ahead of time.
While I’ve never been one to sit down with recipes and write out a meal plan for the week, that all changed recently when I discovered The Dinner Daily, a meal planning service.
Not only does The Dinner Daily answer the age-old what’s for dinner? question, but every meal uses simple, real food ingredients, take 30 minutes or less to pull together, and they’re all delicious. If you want to give it a try, sign up now and get 2 weeks free.
If meal planning isn’t your thing however, at the very least, think ahead and have a handful of easy, healthy dinner ideas so you’re prepared.
4. ASK FOR AND ACCEPT HELP
The it takes a village adage sounds good in theory, but for many women who don’t have family nearby or another form of support, it’s just not a reality.
When my daughters were babies, my mom lived about an hour away and was available to help out, but I was under the false assumption that I should be able to handle everything myself—just like she did.
Now that she has moved to another state and lives more than 700 miles away, however, I wish I would have asked for—and accepted— more of her help.
Being a mom is the hardest job you’ll ever have and when you have a newborn at home, you need all the help you can get.
If you have a family member or a friend who can take your baby for a walk in the stroller, make a meal, fold your laundry, or run to Target, accept that help.
If you don’t have family around, look into local mom’s groups (MOPS was a lifesaver for me), hire a postpartum doula, or start to interview babysitters or mothers’ helpers so you’ll have a support system in place once your baby is born.
5. CARVE OUT TIME FOR SELF-CARE
It seems that everything you read these days is about self-care, but once you have a newborn at home, this good-for-you practice can go right out the window.
According to a survey by HealthyWomen and Working Mother magazine, a whopping 78 percent of women said they often put off taking care of themselves or making their own health appointments because they’re so busy taking care of their other family members’ health.
That’s why self-care is one of the best healthy habits to start in pregnancy, because the more you make it a priority now, the easier it will be to stick with after you have your baby.
Self-care can look different for each woman. For one mom, it might mean getting in a workout, while for another, it could be taking a bath.
Take this time to discover what you need for self-care and make a habit of it.
While it may not look the exact same way it does during your pregnancy, chances are, it’s something that you’ll be able to find a way to incorporate into your life at some level once you become a mom.
6. GET ACTIVE
There are so many benefits of exercise during pregnancy both for you and your baby, which is why the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend women with normal, healthy pregnancies get between 20 and 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most—or all days—of the week.
Exercise— and simply moving more—is also a great habit to pick up during pregnancy because it’s something you’re more likely to make a habit of after you give birth.
If you keep it up as your children get older, it can encourage them to be active too.
7. EAT HEALTHY SNACKS
Preparing healthy snacks ahead of time whether you’re working at home, or out and about is the best way to ensure you’re covered when hunger strikes.
Healthy snacking can also prevent blood sugar spikes, fatigue, overeating, and weight gain and help you avoid reaching for processed snacks which are often high in sodium, saturated fat, and sugar.
Related: 8 Reasons to Avoid Sugar During Pregnancy
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.
Developing a habit of keeping healthy snacks on hand now is one that will carry through after you have your baby and will be important especially if you decide to breastfeed.
Healthy pregnancy snacks include a combination of protein and carbs, such as an apple with peanut butter or carrots with hummus.
Related: 10 Best Healthy Pregnancy Snacks
8. PRIORITIZE REST
When I was pregnant and would wake up like clockwork every night at 3 am, I always chalked it up to my body getting prepared for the middle of the night feedings.
While I definitely felt a bit sluggish during my pregnancy however, I realized that nothing can prepare you for the exhaustion you feel once you have a baby.
If you already have other children, that exhaustion will only be compounded.
While it may not be realistic to take a nap, or watch Netflix all afternoon on the weekend, try to find ways to rest now while you’re pregnant.
Ask your partner to help out with errands and chores, or find opportunities to take a break throughout the day for a restorative practice like prayer, prenatal yoga, or meditation.
Taking time to rest and relax is one of the best healthy habits to start during pregnancy and one that will make motherhood easier.
9. FIND WAYS TO DE-STRESS
While most women are thrilled to find out they’re pregnant, not all women experience overwhelming joy and happiness.
In fact, according to a January 2020 study in the journal JAMA Network Open, of 119 pregnant women, 27% reported “perceived stress.”
Nearly the same amount (26%) had symptoms of anxiety, while 11% had symptoms of depression.
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s a good idea to touch base with your provider who can provide you with helpful resources or even refer you to a therapist.
One of the best ways to have a stress-free pregnancy, however, is to put your physical, mental, and emotional health first.
Re-think your obligations and so-called priorities and figure out what’s really important.
While you may not be able to do much about work projects, for example, you can find ways to set boundaries with people in your life, bow out of other non-essentials and get in the habit of saying no—all healthy habits that will serve you well once your baby is born.
For example, although leading your Church’s ministry, volunteering for your favorite charity, or hosting a home shopping party are all rewarding, worthy endeavors, you may have to put them on the back burner for a while.