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This page is an overview of some health issues which can arise during pregnancy or can be exacerbated during this time. If you have an ongoing or serious medical condition you need to make sure your doctor is aware of your pregnancy, as some medications can have a negative impact on your developing pregnancy or on you while you're pregnant. 

This page is intended as a guide only, and you should always consult a medical professional for information about health during pregnancy. 

Emotional health

While pregnancy can be a happy and exciting time, it is a time when you are dealing with many changes in your life. These include: 

  • Coping with hormonal swings, sickness and tiredness, and change to your body shape;
  • Dealing with other people, such as the man involved with the pregnancy, and/or your partner, husband, family, friends, doctor, medical staff, and strangers;
  • Dealing with changes to your environment, your work and home life arrangements;
  • Coping with new information and learning about pregnancy, birth, and parenting.

Change can cause us stress and it is important to be aware of your feelings and find your own ways to deal with your concerns. You may feel many different and competing feelings, joy and sadness, anxiety and excitement. 

Some women find that it can help to write down all these feelings and why you think you are feeling them. 

Pregnancy can raise lots of questions, including some about your relationship, your body, and your own childhood. Your pregnancy may raise questions for others around you too. However, you are the main person in this process. Others may be important too but it is important not to forget yourself and your own needs during this pregnancy. A few suggestions for coping are:

  • Think about what or who has helped you deal with stress and change in the past.
  • Get more information, prepare for, and investigate issues you are facing.
  • Seek out people you trust, who will be supportive and understanding without trying to pressure you to behave in a certain way.

Sometimes women experience depression during pregnancy.  This involves feeling down or "black" for an ongoing period of time.  

Mental health 

In some cases, pregnancy can exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions, or you may think it's best to cease taking your medication for these conditions during your pregnancy by your doctor. It is important to only make changes to your medication under advice from your doctor. This is one reason it's important to let your doctor know you are pregnant as soon as possible, so they can review your treatment plan and/or medication in light of the impact on you and your pregnancy. 

Try not to put pressure on yourself to deal well with the changes that pregnancy brings, and make sure you seek help if you are struggling. Beyond Blue have some excellent resources on mental health and pregnancy, including a list of who you can contact if you need help. Women's Health Queensland Wide also have a wealth of information on their website about mental health during pregnancy and after birth, including specific resources on depression, anxiety, and postnatal depression, as well as their Deadly Mums Guide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Some public hospitals have specialist perinatal mental health midwife services that offer additional support. 

Nutrition

A healthy diet is important during pregnancy to maintain your own health and to develop a healthy pregnancy. 

The National Health and Medical Research Council has an excellent resource, Healthy eating during your pregnancy. It recommends the following: 

  • Eat a balanced diet including fruit, vegetables, legumes/beans, grain foods like bread and rice, lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, milk and other dairy products; 
  • Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat (such as processed foods, cakes and biscuits, fried foods, etc), added salt and sugars; and
  • Avoid alcohol, foods which can contain listeria bacteria (like soft cheese, sandwich meats, preprepared salads and pate), raw eggs, and fish that may contain high levels of mercury. Check the NHMRC guide [pdf] for details. 

Younger women who have not finished physically developing need to pay particular attention to their nutrition. They are, in effect, competing with the pregnancy for the nutrients required for healthy growth, and run the risk of developing things including anaemia and lowered bone density. 

It's always important to discuss your food requirements with your doctor or nutritionist as everyone is different and you and your pregnancy may have special dietary needs.

Tobacco, alcohol and other drugs 

Avoid smoking during pregnancy as it seriously affects your health and the developing fetus. Quitting smoking before or during pregnancy is the single most effective means of protecting you and your baby from complications during pregnancy. Within one day of quitting smoking, your blood’s level of carbon monoxide and nicotine will drop dramatically. If you can't quit, cut back as much as possible, and ask the people around you to support you by not smoking either. Contact Quitline for support.

Alcohol and other drugs such as tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, heroin can all have serious negative and long-term consequences for both you and your child, and medical bodies recommend that not drinking alcohol at all during pregnancy is the safest option for you and your baby. Possible complications from alcohol or drug use include premature labour, stillbirth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), birth defects, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FADS), heart problems, developmental issues, and other serious conditions. 

For more information or support you can contact: 

Medicines 

NPS Medicinewise advises that while most medicines are safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, some can cause considerable harm to your developing baby. Their website also warns that some non-prescription medicines, herbal and natural medicines, and vitamin and mineral substances, may cause harm. 

You may have a medical condition, such as epilepsy or asthma that requires drug treatment during pregnancy. It is very important to seek medical advice in these cases. Ideally, you will have a regular doctor or care team who can monitor your condition and your pregnancy, and make you aware of any symptoms or side effects that could occur. 

Exercise

Exercise is important during pregnancy to maintain your health and well being, and to prepare your body for childbirth. The amount and type of exercise you do will be determined partly by the amount and type of exercise you used to do before pregnancy, and also the recommendations from your doctor or midwife. Better Health Channel recommends:

  • Do gentle stretches and exercises to warm up and warm down;
  • Take it easy, as your muscles and joints are softer when you are pregnant;
  • Avoid overheating and extreme heat exhaustion;
  • Low-impact aerobic activity is beneficial - this includes walking, swimming, cycling, aqua aerobics, and yoga or pilates (as long as you inform the instructor you are pregnant before the class); 
  • Avoid contact or competitive sports;
  • Weights training is fine but use low weights - avoid all heavy lifting;
  • Do not spend too much time lying on your back as this puts pressure on the blood vessels that supply the uterus - avoid this completely after around 16 weeks gestation. 

Common discomforts

Throughout the course of a pregnancy, it is not uncommon to experience changes in your body that may lead to minor discomfort. The Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne advises that such changes can include, but are not limited to:

Breast pain: this can be one of the first signs of pregnancy for many women. To minimise discomfort, it is important to get a supportive bra professionally fitted, as you may go up several sizes during your pregnancy. It is also normal for the nipples to darken and veins in the breast to become more obvious.

Morning sickness: Intense nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to smells that can occur at any time of the day or night - not just in the morning! It is unknown what causes morning sickness, but it is thought to be hormonal and occurs most often in the first trimester of pregnancy. Try eating small amounts of dry bland foods (such as crackers) first thing in the morning, eating small meals throughout the day to avoid an empty stomach, avoiding rich or fatty foods, and drinking lots of fluids, to reduce your symptoms.

Heartburn: Hormonal changes and pressure from the enlarging uterus on the stomach are the most common causes of heartburn. Eating small meals often, avoiding spicy foods, avoiding eating before bed, and eating slowly in an upright position may help to ease heartburn.

Swelling of fingers, ankles, and knees: Caused by hormonal effects on fluid retention. Try elevating your legs or lying down for short periods throughout the day.

Constipation and haemorrhoids: Hormonal changes in pregnancy slow down the movement of bowel muscles, which can lead to constipation. Frequent straining on the toilet may damage pelvic flood muscles and cause haemorrhoids. To avoid constipation, eat a balanced diet including high fibre foods such as wholemeal breads and cereals, fresh fruit and vegetables, and water.

Antenatal care

Antenatal (or pregnancy) care is important to manage your own health and the health of your pregnancy. In the beginning, you may choose to receive care from your regular doctor, or you may prefer to deal with a midwife, obstetrician, or public hospital staff. 

See our antenatal care page for details on diagnostics and monitoring during pregnancy. 

If you are not treated with respect and consideration from your first appointment, whenever that is, explore your options of accessing a different person or service. When a pregnancy is unexpected, you may be further along in your pregnancy than when a medical person is used to seeing a woman for their first appointment. Ask your health provider about what information you may have missed that they would cover earlier on.  

If you have any pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, they need to be managed carefully. Talk about them with your health carer. Check with your health carer when beginning your antenatal care about the frequency and cost of visits. Make a list of questions before you go for a visit - sometimes appointments can be rushed or distracted due to events beyond your control.

Last modified on: 04 July 2016
Pregnancy health
04 July 2016

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