Advice on health and lifestyle

In early pregnancy, people start to think through how their own health and lifestyle is affecting their unborn baby. Parents valued early contact with their GP or midwife to get advice, and many also found useful information in books, magazines and the Internet. (See also 'Finding information and support' and 'First contacts with services').

People were already well informed on some issues, for example that taking folic acid reduces the risk of spina bifida, and that smoking and alcohol are bad for the baby (for advice on vitamins and supplements in pregnancy see National Childbirth Trust and NHS Choices). Some were pleased that becoming pregnant helped them give up smoking. If the pregnancy was unplanned, some mothers worried they might have harmed the baby by drinking or smoking, not realising they were pregnant. People knew that smoking was harmful, but were less sure whether there was a 'safe' level of drinking during pregnancy. It can be difficult to know what to believe about a whole range of issues, including diet and exercise, given conflicting media reports. One mother worried that people could feel guilty if their lifestyle was not perfect, and disliked the way one doctor talked to her about her weight.

Most people knew they should avoid medicines in pregnancy that might harm the baby. One woman was upset that her GP prescribed an antihistamine for a rash, having earlier told her to avoid them.

For people with conditions such as diabetes and epilepsy, taking drugs in pregnancy can be essential (see 'Pregnancy with another condition or disability').

Knowing what foods to avoid mattered to people; some had received conflicting advice from professionals. (Useful advice on diet in pregnancy, including alcohol, caffeine and vitamins and other supplements, is available from NHS Choices and National Childbirth Trust).

Family and friends can also offer conflicting opinions. One woman from a Pakistani background asked her midwife for advice about diet. Traditional advice from her family was to avoid foods such as eggs, which are considered in many South Asian communities to generate heat in the body. (Such 'hot' foods are not necessarily warm or spicy in themselves, but it is their effect on the body that matters. 'Cool' foods may be recommended to neutralise the 'hot' state of pregnancy). Another Pakistani woman explained how she felt hot in pregnancy.

A fitness instructor, also from a Pakistani background, was keen that women from her own community should be better informed about the value of exercise in pregnancy. Another woman thought keeping fit had helped her recover from her caesarean section. Gentle exercise such as walking, yoga and swimming were commonly recommended; one woman thought her GP's advice was too cautious. NICE guidelines (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence- Antenatal screening CG62) recommend women can continue or start moderate exercise in pregnancy, but advise against contact sports, high-impact sports, vigorous racquet sports and scuba diving.

Some women had to stop exercising because of aches and pains, including one who developed symphysis pubis disorder (pelvic joint pain) (see also 'Pain and discomfort'). Some simply felt too tired or sick to do much exercise, and stressed the importance of trying to rest and relax - not always easy if they had a toddler already. Women who have complications in pregnancy or previous problems such as miscarriage may be advised to rest a lot, and perhaps take time off work.


Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated August 2014.



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