Finding out you’re pregnant can bring a massive mix of emotions all at once: joy, surprise, panic, anxiety, relief—the list goes on, but all normal. Once you’ve had a little time to process, here’s what you should do next to get your pregnancy off to the best start.
1. CONTACT YOUR DOCTOR OR MIDWIFE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
Get in touch with your doctor or midwife as a priority step. If you’re not registered with a doctor, you can find your closest GP services via the NHS website.
This first contact gets you in the system and will be followed up by what is known as your “booking appointment” at between 8 and 12 weeks. When you call up, tell your doctor or midwife if any of the following apply to you:
- You’re on any medication for a condition or chronic disease, such as epilepsy, bipolar disorder, high blood pressure or heart disease.
- You’ve had complications in a previous pregnancy or delivery, like pre-eclampsia or a premature baby.
- You or a family member has had a baby with an abnormality, such as spina bifida.
- You have a family history of an inherited condition, such as sickle cell disease or cystic fibrosis.
- You or the baby’s biological father carry the gene for an inherited condition, such as sickle cell disease or thalassaemia.
- You’ve had fertility treatment (donor egg or sperm).
Your antenatal appointments check that you and your baby are in good health and that your pregnancy is going well, so it’s vital to attend them. Screening tests, ultrasound scans and checks of your blood pressure and urine help identify any possible issues, so that you can get the right care as early as possible.
2. TAKE A FOLIC ACID SUPPLEMENT EVERY DAY
If you’re not already taking a folic acid supplement, start taking one right away. This one simple thing can help protect your baby from developing brain and spinal cord problems (spina bifida).
You should take a 400 microgram tablet every day. These are available from chemists and supermarkets, or your doctor may prescribe them for you.
Some women need a higher dose of folic acid (5 milligrams every day). This will be prescribed by your doctor or midwife if you’re affected by some of the conditions spoken about above.
It’s also recommended that you take a 10-microgram supplement of vitamin D every day to help your baby’s growth.
Multivitamin tablets that are specific for pregnancy are safe to take, but high doses of vitamin A should be avoided.
3. CHANGE LIFESTYLE HABITS THAT CAN HARM YOUR BABY
Smoking: If you smoke, it’s time to stop. This is one of the best things you can do to protect your baby. Smoking in pregnancy increases your risk of pregnancy and delivery complications, stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight and cot death.
Alcohol: It’s best to cut out drinking alcohol altogether while you’re pregnant and if you breastfeed. Experts don’t know whether there is any ‘safe’ level of alcohol to drink in pregnancy, which is why the advice is to follow the safest approach and avoid drinking any.
Drinking alcohol in pregnancy can affect the growth and development of your unborn baby, and increase the risk of miscarriage, premature delivery and low birth weight.
Heavy drinking can cause a condition called foetal alcohol syndrome, which is associated with severe mental and physical problems.
Caffeine: Cut down on the amount of caffeine you drink each day to 200 milligrams, which is about two mugs of instant coffee. High levels of caffeine can cause low birth weight and miscarriage.
Be aware too that caffeine is also in tea, green tea, chocolate, energy drinks, and fizzy drinks such as cola, and will need to be counted within the daily limit.
4. EAT A HEALTHY DIET AND AVOID CERTAIN FOODS
Eating a healthy, balanced diet will give you and your baby the right nutrients during pregnancy. Eat a balance of fruit and vegetables, carbohydrates, protein and dairy foods, and cut back on foods high in fat and sugar. Read more about what you should be eating during pregnancy.
You don’t need to “eat for two” anymore—snack sensibly if you feel hungrier than normal and have a healthy breakfast every day to curb reaching for the biscuit tin.
There are some foods you should not eat when you’re pregnant. These pose risk of food poisoning or infections that can harm your baby, or they may contain substances that are harmful to your baby’s growth and development.
Here is a list of some foods you should avoid during your pregnancy:
- Cold cuts, deli meats, hot dogs, and other ready-to-eat meats. (You can safely eat these if they are heated to steaming and served hot.)
- Pre-stuffed, fresh, turkey or chicken
- Steak tartare or any raw meat
- Rare cuts of meat and undercooked meats
- Refrigerated pates or meat spreads. (Canned and shelf-safe meat spreads are OK.)
- Locally caught bluefish, pike, salmon, striped bass, trout, and walleye
- King mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tilefish, which have high levels of mercury
- Smoked cod, smoked salmon or lox, smoked mackerel, smoked trout, smoked tuna, and smoked whitefish, or other smoked fish
- Sushi or any raw fish or raw shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels)
- Raw eggs
- Raw cookie dough. (It has raw eggs in it.)
- Caesar salad dressing, bearnaise sauce, hollandaise sauce, mayonnaise, and any homemade dressings and sauces made with raw eggs
- Mousse, meringue, tiramisu, and any homemade desserts made with raw eggs
Milk and Cheese
- Unpasteurized milk
- Any cheese made from unpasteurized milk. (Very few cheeses made from raw milk are sold in the U.S. But some are, so always check the labels. Soft cheeses such as brie, blue cheese, feta, panela, queso blanco, and queso fresco are more likely than hard cheeses to be made from raw milk.)
Fruits and Veggies
- Store-bought fresh-squeezed or any unpasteurized juice
- Unwashed fruits and vegetables
- Raw sprouts
- Unripe papaya
5. STAY FIT WITH EXERCISE
It’s good to exercise in pregnancy, just be sure to do it safely. If you’re a regular then carry on with your normal exercise and classes—tell your instructor first—for as long as you’re comfortably able.
If you want to start exercising because you are pregnant, start gently and build up. Low impact options are good to begin with, such as swimming, walking and yoga, especially pregnancy yoga.
6. WATCH WHAT MEDICINES YOU TAKE
Now you’re pregnant it’s important to remember that medicine you might usually take could be harmful to your baby. Talk to your doctor or midwife about any existing medication that you’re on so that they can review it—don’t just stop taking it, check first.
Ask your doctor, midwife or chemist before buying any over-the-counter remedies. Although paracetamol is safe to take in pregnancy (lowest dose for the shortest time), aspirin and ibuprofen aren’t recommended.
7. REST AND RELAX WHEN YOU CAN
The first trimester can feel particularly exhausting thanks to all the hormonal changes. Make sure you get some early nights each week and take time out to rest and clear your mind during the day if you can. Fitting in rest and relaxation will help your physical and mental well-being and can help prevent common problems such as tension headaches.
8. TELLING PEOPLE YOU’RE PREGNANT
Who you tell and when is a personal decision. Other than immediate family and close friends, many women wait until after the first ultrasound scan to tell a wider circle.
Tell your employer early on that you’re pregnant if your job is strenuous or dangerous.