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Let the choices you make now give your baby the best start in life.

Pregnancy is part science, part magic. Much of it happens on its own, following a course set by nature. However, plenty of outside factors can influence your baby’s development, too. Here are some ways you can help reduce risks and make healthy choices for both yourself and your baby.

Please remember that the advice given here is not intended to replace the guidance of your doctor or midwife.

Avoid Harmful Substances

Stay away from smoking, drinking, and using recreational drugs. Ask your doctor or midwife if you need help with quitting. Swedish’s Addiction Recovery Services offers a special program for pregnant and postpartum women to help them deal with chemical dependencies and substance abuse disorders, other than smoking. To learn more, call 206-781-6209.

Pay attention to environmental toxins, which have been linked to problems for a developing fetus. Have someone else paint the nursery, using low- or no-VOC paint. Stay away from lead, which can be found in old paint, some ceramic glazes, and even water pipes. When cleaning your home, think about using vinegar or baking soda solutions instead of chemical-laden cleansers. Avoid pesticides and insecticides, and eat organic food if possible.

Microwave your food in glass or ceramic containers, rather than plastic. If you have a pet cat, try to have someone else clean the litter box. The parasite that causes toxoplasmosis — a rare but potentially dangerous illness — can be found in cat feces.

Vitamins and Medication

If you’re not already doing so, start taking a daily prenatal vitamin or multivitamin with at least 600 to 800 mcg of folate, which helps protect your baby from certain birth defects. A multivitamin is also useful if morning sickness is keeping you from getting a mix of nutrients from food.

Take any medications with caution. Your provider can tell you what level of risk a prescription or over-the-counter drug carries during pregnancy. It’s generally fine to take regular acetaminophen (such as Tylenol®) for headaches, fever and minor aches and pains.

Watch What You Eat

Consider reducing or eliminating caffeine and artificial sweeteners. Don’t eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because of their high mercury content, and limit white albacore tuna to six ounces or less per week for the same reason.

Pregnancy slightly lowers your immune response and can make food-borne illness more likely — and more harmful. That’s why you should avoid raw or undercooked meat, fish and eggs. Drink and eat only pasteurized milk and milk products. Deli meats and hot dogs should be reheated to steaming hot. Thoroughly wash all fresh fruits, vegetables and salad greens.

The idea of “eating for two” doesn’t mean you need to eat twice as much. In general, women who are at a normal weight should aim to gain about 25 to 35 pounds while pregnant. Underweight women should gain 28 to 40 pounds. Overweight women should gain 15 to 25 pounds, and obese women should gain 11 to 20 pounds. If you’re not sure what a healthy weight-gain range is for your pregnancy, be sure to ask your provider.

If you seem to be gaining more weight than recommended, remember that pregnancy is not the time to diet. Instead, choose nutrient-rich foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean protein, and limit processed foods, sweets, and other kinds of junk food.


Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself, pregnant or not. Think swimming, walking, jogging and weightlifting. Your doctor or midwife can tell you if you should continue your exercise routine while pregnant. However, if you’ve not been active prior to pregnancy, you’ll want to ease into an exercise routine. Check with your provider to see what she recommends. A couple things to avoid for sure are hot tubs and saunas hotter than 101 degrees.

Stay Safe

Always wear your seatbelt, keeping the lap portion as low as possible. Stay off thrill rides for now, and try to avoid falls. Most of all, keep yourself and your baby in a healthy, loving environment, free from physical or emotional abuse. Visit our Community Resources  section to find a list of organizations that provide help for new moms and their babies.