This section discusses lifestyle factors that contribute to the health and wellbeing of a woman and her baby during pregnancy. Recommendations are based on evidence about the health risks and benefits associated with a range of lifestyle factors.
The summary of advice on lifestyle considerations during pregnancy considered a priority for inclusion in these Guidelines. Advice on immunisation during pregnancy is included in the Australian Immunisation Handbook ATAGI 2017.
Summary of advice for women about lifestyle considerations during pregnancy
- Healthy dietary patterns are characterised by high intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, fish, seafood, unprocessed meats, dairy foods and water.
- Diets with high intake of sweetened foods and drinks, foods high in saturated fats (eg fried foods), processed meats and refined grains are associated with poorer outcomes.
- The Eat for Health website provides further details.
- Usual physical activity during pregnancy has health benefits and is safe.
- Smoking and passive smoking can have negative effects on the pregnancy and the baby.
- Not drinking alcohol is the safest option for women who are pregnant.
- Illicit substances and non-medical use of medications (eg opioids) have negative effects on the pregnancy and the baby.
Preventive health interventions
- Dietary supplements of 400 µg folic acid a day, ideally taken from 1 month before conception and throughout the first 3 months of pregnancy, reduce the risk of a baby having neural tube defect.
- In the absence of identified deficiency, supplements of vitamins A, C and E are of little or no benefit during pregnancy and may cause harm.
- The need for iron supplementation is assessed through a blood test at 28 weeks.
- If an iron supplement is necessary, weekly supplementation (80-300 mg elemental iron) is as effective as daily supplementation (30-60 mg elemental iron) in preventing (but not treating) iron-deficiency anaemia, with fewer adverse effects.
- Calcium supplements are recommended for women at high risk of pre-eclampsia.
- Iodine requirements increase during pregnancy and a supplement of 150 micrograms a day is advised.
- Supplementation with omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (800 mg docosahexaenoic acid [DHA] and 100 mg eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] per day) may reduce the risk of preterm birth among women who are low in omega-3.
- The effectiveness and safety of herbal preparations varies according to the herbal preparation and the condition being treated.
- Use of medicines should be limited to circumstances where the benefit outweighs the risk.
- Good oral health is important to a woman’s health and treatment can be safely provided during pregnancy.
- Sexual intercourse in pregnancy is not known to be associated with any adverse outcomes.
- Correct use of three-point seatbelts during pregnancy is to have the belt ‘above and below the bump, not over it’.
- Long-distance air travel is associated with an increased risk of venous thrombosis.
- Pregnant women should discuss considerations such as air travel, vaccinations and travel insurance with their midwife or doctor if they are planning to travel overseas.
- If a pregnant woman cannot defer travel to malaria-endemic areas, she should use an insecticide-treated bed net.
- Some medications to prevent malaria can be safely used in pregnancy.
- ATAGI (2017 update) Australian Immunisation Handbook. 10th edition. Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. Canberra: Department of Health.