Proteins to Pets: 5 Steps to a Healthy Pregnancy

Medically reviewed by
Jenna MacLennan, MD
McLeod OB/GYN Associates

A pregnant woman faces many decisions about herself, her surroundings and her future baby. We’ll discuss some of the most important – although not all – steps you should take for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

“I would start by cautioning a woman to stop smoking,” says McLeod OB/GYN Jenna MacLennan, MD. “Even heavy smokers can help lower their risk of pre-term birth if they quit before or early on during pregnancy.”

Not only will your baby benefit from not smoking, your heart will as well. Controlling obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure also take stress off your heart. If these health issues are not controlled, they set the stage for a serious, potentially fatal problem called pre-eclampsia, which can harm the placenta and the mother’s kidney, liver and brain. More than 1 out of 4 pregnancy-related deaths are due to cardiovascular disease.

Healthy eating is one of the most important recommendations we make. Breastfeeding mothers who maintain a higher-quality diet tend to have babies with lower body fat in the first six months and have a lower tendency toward obesity as they grow.

A pregnant woman’s diet should include a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, proteins and low-fat dairy. Avoid beverages and foods high in salt, saturated fats and sugar, such as cookies, white bread and snack foods.

Folic acid helps prevent birth defects, particularly in a baby’s spine and brain. Some sources actually recommend every woman who is of reproductive age take a daily dose of folic acid, because 1) about half of US pregnancies are unplanned and 2) some birth defects can develop in the first few weeks of pregnancy.

Talk to your OB/GYN about whether you need additional iron, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D and other vitamins and minerals.

Moderate, low-impact exercises are good for a pregnant woman. Cycling, swimming and walking can be done regularly if you start slowly, take frequent breaks and drink plenty of liquids. Avoid exercising on your back in the first 3 months. This could limit blood flow to your baby. Stay away from activities where you could fall on your stomach, such as horse riding or water skiing.

Before your baby is born, be sure your dog’s vaccines are up to date. Ask other family members to spend more time with your dog. It’ll reduce tensions when the dog has to share your affection with a new baby.

Be careful when handling your cat. Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite in the cat’s droppings, and you can get it by cleaning the kitty litter or digging in the yard, where a cat may have buried their feces.

Pet Guinea pigs, hamsters and mice also carry a virus. An animal bite, their urine or droppings can carry the virus (LCMV), which can lead to miscarriage or severe birth defects.

Salmonella infections, usually caught from raw meat or eggs, can also be carried by turtles, snakes or lizards. These reptiles should be removed from the house during a pregnancy.

Talk with your OB/GYN for further information about any of these topics, including the appropriate level of weight gain during your pregnancy.

Find an OB/GYN near you.

Sources include: McLeod Health, US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Journal of the American Medical Association, March of Dimes, Nutrients Journal, US Office of Women’s Health