Do you really know if your lifestyle is healthy?

It would be pretty silly if you asked a friend to tell you exactly how many grams of protein or how many milligrams of iron they had consumed in the past week. You wouldn’t expect anyone to know this information straight off the top of their head.

Yet nutrition guidelines for pregnant women are usually worded along the lines of “consume 400 micrograms of folic acid each day to prevent your baby from developing neural tube defects” or “consume 27 milligrams of iron each day to prevent iron deficiency anemia”. 

Without tracking your lifestyle it’s impossible to know if you’re actually meeting these guidelines. At the same time, it’s critical to make an effort to follow the guidelines to support a healthy pregnancy for you and your baby. Health professionals didn’t create the guidelines for no reason at all - the guidelines exist because they represent the optimal outcomes for reducing the risk of adverse pregnancy complications, based on decades of evidence-based research. 

Research shows not enough pregnant women meeting nutrition guidelines

Alarming statistics show that many women fail to meet the recommended guidelines for a healthy pregnancy lifestyle, putting themselves and their babies at risk of serious health complications. 

A study of more than 1 million pregnancies by an international team of researchers found that 47% of pregnant women gained more weight during pregnancy than the guidelines recommended. A further 23% had a gestational weight gain that was less than the recommended amount. 

Any weight gain not meeting the guideline recommendations is associated with higher risk of adverse maternal and infant outcomes. Weight gain less than the recommended amount is known to be associated with a higher risk of preterm birth and newborns with a small birth weight (also referred to as small for gestational age or SGA). This is concerning because the earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of complications, with preterm babies potentially facing serious short-term and long-term complications.

On the other hand, weight gain exceeding the recommended amount puts pregnancies at higher risk of cesarean delivery, macrosomia (newborns with high birth weight) and LGA (large for gestational age). This can lead to difficulties during delivery, making labor long and difficult and potentially causing injury to the baby. Healthcare professionals may advise a cesarean delivery for larger babies, which carries its own set of risks. 

Even if you think your diet is healthy heading into pregnancy, studies show that women commencing pregnancy with a healthy weight are at greatest risk of excessive gestational weight gain. Over 70% of women who gain excessive weight during pregnancy retain that weight after pregnancy, increasing the long-term risk of chronic health conditions and obesity. 

Most critical is the need to eat a rich variety of foods to ensure your baby gets much-needed nutrients to support their development. A recent review of 18 studies from around the world indicates that pregnant women may not be eating enough vegetables, cereal grains, folate, iron and calcium and may be consuming excess fat. 

There are a number of vitamins and minerals that are essential for pregnancy. Folic acid prevents fetal neural tube defects and reduces the occurrence of anomalies such as spina bifida. Your body needs iron to make red-blood cells and provide oxygen to your baby. There’s also an increased requirement for iodine to support thyroid functionality and calcium is essential for building healthy bones and teeth. 

A deficiency of these nutrients will put you and your baby at harm, with iron deficiency causing anemia and iodine deficiency putting your baby at risk of irreversible brain and nervous system defects. Even if you already had a well-balanced diet pre-pregnancy, you will need to adjust for these elevated requirements of certain vitamins and minerals during pregnancy.

It’s also important to consult your healthcare professional before taking any nutrition supplements. Experts warn that certain vitamin supplements, such as vitamin A, C or E, are not known to be of any benefit during pregnancy and may even cause harm. Iron supplements also have some unpleasant side effects, so it’s best to try and source these nutrients from your diet first if possible.

Few women achieve guidelines for physical activity during pregnancy

Research shows that less than 15% of pregnant women in the world achieve the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. 

There are many benefits of physical activity during pregnancy, but research reveals a number of factors preventing pregnant women from reaching the recommended exercise levels. Studies indicate that many women are uncertain whether exercise is safe during pregnancy and are concerned it will increase their risk of pregnancy complications.

This is not true, with most national guidelines around the world recommending at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. 

Regular exercise during pregnancy provides many benefits, including reduced risk of conditions such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm birth, varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis. Additional benefits include reduced risk of excessive weight gain and improved psychological wellbeing. One study shows that women who engaged in any regular physical activity during early pregnancy saw a 35% reduced risk of preeclampsia.

Moderate-intensity exercises include walking, light resistance exercises, aerobic dance, stationary cycling, water aerobics, yoga, gentle stretching and pelvic floor muscle training (e.g. Kegel exercises). Women with existing health conditions can seek further advice from their doctor about the safest options for them.

Over the last three decades, there has been a dramatic increase in rates of pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and large weight newborns. This has been attributed to poor decisions about nutrition and exercise and a lack of awareness of the guidelines, leading to rising rates of maternal obesity.

Digital health technologies can play a major role in reversing these trends. With the increasing popularity of smartwatches and other wearable fitness trackers, it’s become much easier to monitor your fitness during pregnancy and hit goals for a healthy pregnancy. 

Why it’s so important to track your lifestyle during pregnancy

Research shows that women who monitor their nutrition and lifestyle during pregnancy reduce their risk of complications like hypertension, diabetes and are more likely to meet the guideline recommendations for gestational weight gain. 

There are a number of key benefits to tracking your lifestyle during pregnancy:

  • Takes out the guesswork: The proof is in the numbers - tracking your lifestyle via an app is the easiest way to measure if you’re actually meeting the guidelines for a healthy pregnancy lifestyle
  • Makes change seem less scary: Chances are you are probably already doing so much right and tracking your lifestyle can give you the assurance and boost to your confidence that you deserve! Without structured lifestyle tracking you may spend wasted energy stressing over something unnecessarily
  • Goal-oriented mindset: You may discover that you’ve nailed nutrition but need to incorporate some more physical activity into your day. Lifestyle tracking helps you quickly identify what to focus on and provides the framework for actually achieving those goals!
  • Healthy lifestyle = healthy pregnancy: Most importantly, lifestyle tracking provides the support you need for a healthy pregnancy and reduces the risk of complications. Pregnancy is already complex enough, so make life easier for yourself by utilizing the technology available for lifestyle tracking

How do I track my pregnancy lifestyle?

The Velmio app was developed to help every woman meet the guidelines for a healthy pregnancy lifestyle:

  • All-in-one lifestyle tracking: We redesigned the entire lifestyle experience to make it feel seamless, including integration for smartwatches or other wearable fitness trackers you may already own. To reduce the manual burden of lifestyle tracking we developed technologies like AI-powered nutrition tracking from photographs of a meal. Set reminders to get notified each day to record your data
  • Guidelines simplified: All the information you need to absorb during pregnancy can seem pretty overwhelming! Velmio makes all this advice more digestible by showing what you need to know only as you need it
  • Personalized for you: Velmio populates your “insights feed” with relevant advice about your symptoms, exercise, nutrition, sleep and mental health, and shows how you’re tracking within the context of your own data. Velmio will automatically tell you what you’re doing well and helps you identify potential areas of improvement 
  • Motivational and reassuring: Velmio lets you set goals to meet your targets in accordance with the pregnancy health guidelines. Monitor your progress in real-time to take out the guesswork and reassure yourself that you’re doing just fine!
  • Revolutionizing women’s health: Women are underrepresented in medical research, so we designed Velmio as a research platform to discover new connections between lifestyle and pregnancy. Be part of this bold mission - at the end of your pregnancy you will have the option to consent for your Velmio data to be used in medical research to improve future pregnancies

Read our other articles to find out more about how to track your diet using Velmio, how smartwatch integration works, or how to use Velmio’s goal tracking feature.