woman reading about how to have a healthy pregnancy and looking down at her belly

How to Have a Healthy Pregnancy: 6 Rules to Follow

By Marisa Iallonardo
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
April 08, 2024

When you’re pregnant, it can feel like every day you’re met with another piece of advice for how to have a healthy pregnancy. It can all feel overwhelming. But really, following a few simple rules can help guide you in your own choices of what to do when you’re pregnant.

Inspired by the video above from Cone Health, which highlights six key strategies for a healthy pregnancy, we take a closer look at why these basic rules are important—and how you can incorporate them into your pregnancy.

Here’s what experts say you should do to help ensure the best pregnancy experience, for you and for baby.

1. Keep Up with Prenatal Care

Your prenatal care visits are so important for a healthy pregnancy and beyond, so be sure to prioritize going to them. “Research has shown that patients who have early and consistent prenatal care have an increased likelihood of a healthy pregnancy and decreased [risk of] complications,” says Natasha Prince, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at Henry Ford Health in Detroit. Pregnancy complications are health problems or concerns that can affect you or your growing baby, like low vitamin levels in your blood, high blood pressure, or slow fetal growth.

Prenatal visits usually start out monthly and then get more frequent. You’ll likely be seeing your doctor weekly by the end of the third trimester. Appointments can include checking your blood pressure and weight, taking a urine sample, performing ultrasounds, answering questions you have, and more. They are also opportunities for providers to help you with what you need to know, like what’s safe and healthy to eat while pregnant, says Annabel Mancillas, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn with the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kansas.

When should you start prenatal visits? Generally, prenatal care starts with a visit somewhere between seven and 10 weeks into pregnancy, though you may also talk with a nurse at your provider’s office earlier than that to discuss your health history.

Note that if you missed or never scheduled a first prenatal appointment, it’s important to have one as soon as you can. Learning about tips for easier prenatal visits may also help you keep up with your prenatal care if going regularly seems difficult.

2. Exercise and Incorporate Movement

pregnant woman exercising at home

A few of the ways exercise helps ensure a healthy pregnancy, according to Prince, include:

  • Increased blood flow and oxygenation (that’s the amount of oxygen your body and your baby are getting)
  • Better well‑being and mood
  • Less constipation
  • Avoiding excess weight gain

Prince typically recommends low-impact activities like swimming, dancing, and gardening. Walking and prenatal yoga also tend to be good choices.

If you were especially active before your pregnancy, keeping up your routine is likely still okay, too. “I do have some patients who are avid runners, and they ask me, ‘Can I still run in pregnancy?’” Prince adds. “And my answer to that is, if this is an established exercise that you already do, then it can totally be safe in pregnancy.”

Still, don’t be surprised if you’re getting winded sooner or not setting personal records, Mancillas says: “Even in the first trimester, your resting heart rate when you’re pregnant is already faster.” Same goes for your resting respiratory rate—which means that, at rest, you’re taking more breaths per minute than you were before pregnancy. “So, certain activities that you were able to do in the past, you may not be able to do with full force,” Mancillas says. “Just listen to your body.”

As far as intensity goes, Prince offers this advice: “You want to increase your heart rate to a point where you may talk a little choppy, but you still should be able to talk.” If you get to the level where you can’t speak at all, that’s too intense.

Overall, for a safe, healthy pregnancy, avoid contact sports and anything where you might fall or get hit in the abdomen, Prince says. And while some activities may be safe in general, make sure you get the go-ahead from your provider to ensure that any physical activity or exercise is safe for your pregnancy.

3. Eat a Balanced, Varied Diet

The food you eat is a key contributor to how healthy you can be, especially during pregnancy. In fact, nutritional deficiencies are associated with certain health conditions that can be dangerous to the pregnancy—for example, research suggests a connection between vitamin D deficiency and preeclampsia, Prince explains. So, it’s important to eat well and fill your plate with nutritious foods while you’re pregnant.

“Focus on your proteins. Focus on your fiber. Focus on having a diverse intake of fruits and vegetables,” Prince says, similar to the advice Carolyn Harraway-Smith, M.D., offers in the above video. “That’s a good way to make sure you’re getting your vitamins and minerals.”

Proteins, fiber, and fruits and veggies are good to include, but there are also foods to avoid, like some undercooked foods, some meats, and some seafood. Your doctor can help you learn more about what’s safe for you to eat.

And if you’re feeling exhausted, nauseous, or just don’t have the energy? Then try to snack, Prince suggests. That could be having some cheese, nuts, or even a protein shake. And most importantly, make sure to keep yourself hydrated.

4. Drink Plenty of Water

pregnant woman drinking water

Speaking of hydration, Mancillas and Prince explain why it’s so important during pregnancy.

“Even when you’re not pregnant, dehydration can lead to irritability, and it can lead to your heart racing a little bit faster,” Mancillas notes. So, getting enough fluids can help combat these issues. What’s more? “Being hydrated is responsible for spreading all the vitamins and nutrients in your body,” she adds. And specifically during pregnancy, since your blood volume increases, good hydration also helps maintain your—and your baby’s—circulation, she says.

“[Your hydration] also contributes to the amount of fluid that’s around your baby,” Prince says. “When you’re adequately hydrated, we can see variable changes in the amount of fluid that’s around the baby.” That’s a good thing, because low fluid can be a flag for complications, like an issue with the baby’s kidneys. “So, we would hate to think that there’s a complication going on with the pregnancy when really you need to increase your hydration,” she explains.

Dehydration can also lead to premature contractions, leg cramps, and headaches.

Ideally, try to drink about eight to 12 cups of water daily.

5. Avoid Alcohol, Marijuana, and Other Drugs

You’ve likely heard that you should avoid alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, and illegal drugs during pregnancy—and that’s for good reason, as these substances can harm your baby.

Just as Harraway-Smith explains in the video, Prince says that many healthcare providers recommend no alcohol in pregnancy. “And the reason is because we don’t have a safe amount. We don’t know at what amount of alcohol will translate to a fetal problem,” Prince says.

Both Prince and Mancillas have seen an uptick in conversations surrounding marijuana as it becomes legal in more states. Mancillas notes, “I still counsel patients saying we don’t really know the full effect of what this would be for the developing fetus.”

As far as tobacco and other drugs go, the impact can include things such as congenital deformities, like a cleft palate (with tobacco use), issues with poor growth in the fetus, and even the placenta separating from the uterus (with cocaine use), Prince says.

6. Take Care of Your Mind

pregnant woman meditating

As much concern as you have for your developing baby’s health and safety, be sure to have the same for yourself. “I would say your mental health is as important as your physical, emotional, and spiritual health—and I think sometimes it gets neglected because other things take precedence,” Prince says. But as she notes, “The mental health of a mom is foundational for really the well‑being of her entire family.”

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, Prince advises going back to basics, focusing on things like sleeping well and spending time outside in nature. She also suggests talking to your provider. They may offer a different perspective to help ease your anxiety or, if helpful, refer you to a behavioral health specialist.

Mancillas also recommends joining a pregnancy support group. “It’s really helpful to talk about concerns or fears or things like that with a group of people or a cohort who are experiencing the same thing at the same week of gestation,” she says. If finding a support group by week is difficult, consider other means of support, like reaching out to people you trust.