As any woman sporting a bump knows, there’s no end to the onslaught of pregnancy advice. But much of it doesn’t have a leg to stand on, and some can even be harmful to you and your baby. We’re here to help you bust through the bunk.
Mistake No. 1 | Eating for two when one of you is the size of a kumquat
It’s 3 p.m., you have the energy of a brick, and the Snickers bar in the office vending machine is howling your baby’s name. It’s no big deal because you’re eating for two now, right? Hold up, warns Renee Horowitz, MD, an obstetrician in Farmington Hills, Michigan, who has been in practice for more than 32 years. “If you double your caloric intake, you’re going to double your size. When you’re pregnant, you need only an additional 300 calories a day.”
If you double down on dinners, and go beyond the weight gain your OB recommends, you run the risk of birthing a super-sized infant. Delivering a big baby can lead to longer labors, C-sections and birth trauma. It also ups the odds your child will develop diabetes, obesity and cancer later in life, notes Horowitz.
But what if nausea sets in the minute you stop eating? That’s what happened to Melanie Hoagland, a mom of two in Shawnee, Kansas. “I gained over 60 pounds with my first pregnancy because during the first trimester, if I wasn’t eating, I was nauseous,” she says. “Carrot sticks didn’t cut it. That baby wanted salty, greasy stuff.” After she gained 20 pounds in one month, Hoagland’s doctor recommended subbing in nutritious munchies, like nuts and whole-grain crackers, in place of chips and other junk food.
“With each baby, you have only one shot at having the healthiest pregnancy,” reminds Horowitz. “The last thing you want to do is regret the choices you make at the expense of your baby.”
Mistake No. 2 | Skipping exercise because it’s safer for the baby
When everyone is encouraging you to take it easy, and your growing girth is making it harder to maneuver, it’s tempting to kick up your feet and take up residence on the couch. But, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), “keep moving” should be your mantra.
“Exercise in pregnancy has been shown over and over to be associated with better labors, healthier mothers and healthier babies,” explains Horowitz. Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day, at the level you were used to prior to pregnancy, helps reduce common pregnancy complaints like bloating, swelling, backaches and constipation. It can also head off gestational diabetes.
Just be sure to use common sense when it comes to choosing a workout. Don’t exercise outside in extreme temperatures, stay hydrated and avoid getting out of breath. The ACOG also warns against activities in which you have a higher chance of getting hurt. That means no contact sports, horseback riding, scuba diving or downhill or water skiing. Instead, go with easy-on-the-joints workouts like swimming, walking and low-impact aerobics.
Running and weight training are fine, if you’re already a regular on the trail or at the gym. But pregnancy is not the time to start a new or strenuous program, advises Horowitz.
Mistake No. 3 | Letting morning sickness make you miserable
Let’s face it, morning sickness rarely stops at noon, and unfortunately, up to 75 percent of women experience this icky ailment early in pregnancy. It’s associated with rising hormones, and while it tends to reach a mean peak around the end of the first trimester, for some, the sick feeling continues.
The good news? You don’t have to rely solely on Saltines and ginger ale. According to Jennifer Niebyl, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Iowa and specialist in high-risk pregnancies, “There’s a prescription drug approved by the FDA called Diclegis that has been shown to be totally safe in the first trimester. It is a combination of vitamin B6 and an antihistamine.”
For those wanting to go au naturel, Niebyl prefers ginger capsules. “It’s hard to know how much ginger you’re actually getting in drinks and foods,” she says. The ACOG recommends taking three 250-milligram capsules of ginger a day— plus another right before bedtime.
You can also try taking vitamin B6. “The smallest over-the-counter tablet is 25 milligrams, so I tell my patients to take that amount at bedtime and in the morning and afternoon if needed,” says Niebyl.
Mistake No. 4 | Getting too much rest
As your bump gets bigger and your pregnancy discomforts increase, it’s understandable—and even advisable— that you slow down your routine a bit.
“Women today think we can do everything, and I think it’s important, especially with pregnancy, that you get plenty of rest. It’s wise to take an hour a day for some time to yourself to lie down, read a book, watch TV and relax a little bit,” Horowitz recommends.
But, when it comes to bed rest, even for threatened miscarriages and preterm labor, many doctors are now advising against it. A study published in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology last year concluded that pregnant women should be encouraged to remain active and that restricted activity doesn’t lower the risk of preterm labor. According to The Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, an organization of high-risk pregnancy specialists, about one in five women are placed on bed rest at some point during their pregnancy— and not only are the supposed benefits not supported by research but there are also potential risks that could be harmful to mom and baby.
“Bed rest is the biggest myth of pregnancy,” states Robert Resnik, MD, professor emeritus of reproductive medicine at the University of San Diego. “There’s not one scientific bit of evidence that shows bed rest improves a pregnancy’s outcome. But studies do show it can increase the risk of blood clots, cause bones to lose calcium and muscles to atrophy.” If your health care provider prescribes bed rest, talk to her about your concerns, and discuss together whether an alternative protocol may be a better option.
Mistake No. 5 | Believing all medications are no-go
Your protective mama instincts kicked in the moment the pregnancy test read positive. Since then, every molecule that’s passed your lips has gone through a preapproval process. And, when it comes to taking care of yourself, well, you’d rather sniffle and ache your way through whatever is going around than ingest a potentially harmful substance during pregnancy.
“When my patients have bronchitis or strep throat and I prescribe them a medication, many will ask, ‘Is this going to hurt the baby?’” Horowitz says. “I would never give them something that would hurt the baby.”
If you’re experiencing uncomfortable symptoms like congestion or nasal drainage, don’t think you have to suffer in silence. Many over-the-counter cold remedies are safe during pregnancy; just check with your practitioner first to be sure.
If at all possible, skip getting sick altogether by getting plenty of rest and washing your hands regularly. Be proactive, and take the recommended measures to protect yourself—that includes getting a flu shot.
“Pregnant women who get the flu are at a substantially greater risk of developing severe complications like pneumonia,” Resnik says. “That’s why every pregnant woman should receive the flu vaccine.”
If you didn’t get a flu shot last fall, it’s not too late. Flu season can last until May, and the vaccine’s protective benefits kick in after two weeks.