Healthy pregnancy for First Nations and Inuit
A guide to help you stay healthy during pregnancy.
Becoming a mother
Becoming a mom is a lot of responsibility. When you become a parent, you are a parent 24/7.
You can decide when is a good time in your life to become pregnant, though.
Using contraceptives like birth control pills or condoms helps you prevent unwanted pregnancies, and lets you plan ahead for a pregnancy. Using condoms means there is less chance of getting sexually transmitted infections, too. That is a good step towards a healthy pregnancy.
Are you eligible for benefits under the federal government's Non-Insured Health Benefits program? If so, you may be able to get most contraceptives for free with a prescription.
Planning ahead gives you time to make healthy choices before you become pregnant.
It also gives you time to make sure you have the help and information you need to care for your beautiful new baby.
Here are some important things you can do to have a healthy pregnancy.
- Take a prenatal vitamin with folic acid every day before getting pregnant and while pregnant. Unless advised differently, pregnant women need to make sure that their prenatal vitamin also has iron.
- Eat a variety of foods from the four food groups in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide - First Nations, Inuit and Métis each day. The guide gives tips on how to do this and provides information about eating well during pregnancy. The guide is available in Inuktitut, Ojibwe, Plains Cree and Woods Cree, as well as English and French.
- Brush your teeth twice a day, every day, and floss once per day.
- Be physically active.
- Do not smoke, drink alcohol or use illegal drugs.
- Talk to your nurse, doctor, midwife or other health care provider about taking any prescription and over-the-counter drugs while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Your health care provider can also give you information about contraceptives.
Finding help in your community
All community members have an important role to play when you are pregnant and after your baby is born.
Elders can share knowledge gained over the many years they spent raising families.
Your family and friends can give you practical help. Cooking meals, doing laundry or looking after your other children while you rest are all ways they can pitch in.
Your partner can support you by going with you to see your health care provider and asking questions.
And your community may be able to help you through community-based programming that offers education and support for you and your baby's health before, during and after pregnancy.
Other people who may be able to help are midwives and doulas.
Midwives are health professionals who provide primary care to women and their babies during pregnancy, labour, birth and after a baby is born.
Doulas are specially trained birth companions who provide emotional, physical and spiritual support for Aboriginal women and families during pregnancy and labour and after birth.
You can ask your health care provider if midwives and doulas are available in your community.
If you are planning to become pregnant or are pregnant, it is important to visit your health care provider early.
To learn more about healthy pregnancy:
- call 1 800 O-Canada toll-free (1 800 622-6232) or Teletypewriter (TTY): 1 800 926-9105
It is always important to eat healthy food, but especially when you are pregnant.
Healthy eating will help your baby grow and develop properly, and be healthy. Here are some tips for helping you eat as well as possible.
- Every day, try to eat a variety of foods from the four food groups in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide - First Nations, Inuit and Métis:
- vegetables and fruit, such as mixed vegetables and berries
- grain products, like bannock and bread
- milk and alternatives, such as cheese
- meat and alternatives, including wild game and fish
- Limit foods and drinks that are high in calories, fat, sugar or salt. This includes potato chips, pop, jams and sugar added to tea or coffee.
- Consume liquids as much as you can, including water and milk. A pregnant woman needs to drink fluids regularly throughout the day to stay healthy. Drink more in hot weather or when you are active.
During pregnancy and while breastfeeding, women need to eat a little more. It is important to include an extra two to three Food Guide servings from any of the four food groups each day.
All women who could become pregnant should be taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid every day. So should women who are pregnant. Unless advised differently, pregnant women also need to make sure that their prenatal vitamin contains iron, because extra iron is needed by both mom and baby. For example, iron is important for a growing baby's brain development.
If you are eligible for benefits under the Non-Insured Health Benefits program, you may be able to get your prenatal vitamins and folic acid, iron or calcium supplements for free with a prescription. If you need information on healthy eating, please talk to your health care provider.
Taking care of your mouth
The changes your body goes through when you are pregnant can increase your risk of developing health problems, like tooth decay, and gum or bone disease.
Taking care of your oral health will help prevent damage to your teeth and gums. Good oral health can actually help reduce the chances of getting other diseases later in life, such as heart disease. Brushing and flossing your teeth, eating well and getting dental check-ups can all lead to healthier teeth and gums.
When pregnant, you should continue to:
- brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft toothbrush and use a fluoride toothpaste (carefully clean along the gum line, where gum disease starts)
- floss every day
- eat well to help keep your teeth and gums strong
- try to have regular dental check-ups and cleanings
Do not brush your teeth for 30 minutes after morning sickness. Stomach acid left on the teeth can damage the surface of your teeth and cause teeth to rot. Instead, rinse your mouth right away with water and wait for 30 minutes before brushing.
Your gums may bleed during pregnancy. This may be due to hormonal changes in your body. Continue the recommended brushing and flossing routine.
Try to visit your oral health professional early in your pregnancy. This is an important part of staying healthy.
If you are eligible for benefits under the Non-Insured Health Benefits Program, you may be able to get certain oral health care benefits for free. Ask your oral health professional any questions about your teeth and mouth.
Being active makes you feel good and gives you more energy. It can also benefit your growing baby in many ways. One way is it helps you to be a healthy weight during pregnancy. This can reduce the chances of babies being born too early or developing diabetes later in their life.
Regular exercise during pregnancy can:
- make you feel less tired, prevent constipation and stop back pain
- make you feel better about yourself
- help you relax and sleep better
- help control and perhaps even prevent diabetes and high blood pressure in pregnancy
- help you to achieve a healthy weight gain during pregnancy
- build up your energy for labour and delivery
- speed up your recovery after you have had your baby
Here are some tips to help you be active and safe during your pregnancy.
- If you haven't exercised much recently, start with 15 minutes of continuous exercise three times a week. Increase gradually to 30 minutes four times a week.
- Choose activities that you enjoy and ask a friend to join you. Doing exercise with someone else is more fun!
- Avoid overdoing it. You should be able to chat while you are exercising. Otherwise, slow down.
- Avoid activities that might involve falling, jumping or physical contact.
- Keep cool and hydrated by wearing a hat and drinking lots of water before, during and after exercise. On really hot days, try being active earlier or later in the day.
Most women can walk, dance, swim, snowshoe, ski, go to exercise class and do other activities while they are pregnant.
Talk to your health care provider before starting to exercise, if you have not been active in the past. And ask your health care provider about staying active during your pregnancy.
Living a smoke-free life
Even before your new baby is born, you can help make sure that he or she enjoys a long and healthy life. How? By being smoke-free while you are pregnant and after your child is born, too.
Smoking during pregnancy makes it hard for your baby to get enough oxygen and nutrients. This means your baby will not develop as well and is more likely to have health problems such as ear infections, colds and an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
Even being exposed to second-hand smoke is bad for your baby and your own health.
When you quit smoking, you lower your blood pressure. You also reduce your chances of developing heart disease and oral cancer, experiencing breathing problems and getting infections. On top of that, you lower the chance that people around you will have health problems from second-hand smoke.
How can you live a smoke-free life during your pregnancy?
- Quit smoking, if you smoke.
- Stay away from second-hand smoke and smoky places as much as you can.
- Make your own home smoke-free by asking everyone to smoke outside.
Here are some tips to help you quit smoking.
- Pick a day to quit. On that day, get rid of your cigarettes!
- Change your routine to avoid times when you usually smoke.
- When you crave a cigarette, try chewing gum, brushing your teeth, eating moose or caribou jerky, going for a walk or calling a friend.
- Let your partner, family and friends know that you are quitting so they can encourage and support you.
- Ask those around you to quit smoking themselves.
If you would like help to quit smoking, please talk to your health care provider.
Avoiding alcohol and drugs
There is no safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy. Even one drink is too many!
This means not drinking any type of alcohol including beer, wine, coolers and hard liquor.
Alcohol affects your baby's developing brain and can cause lifelong problems.
It is best to stop drinking before you become pregnant. Otherwise, stop drinking as soon as you find out you have become pregnant.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects called Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
It is easier to stop drinking if people around you drink less - or not at all. Talk to your partner, family and friends about having non-alcoholic choices at parties and community events.
Drug abuse is always a danger to your well-being. Taking drugs - even in small amounts - can be very harmful to pregnant women and their babies.
Women who worry about the effect that drug abuse will have on their baby during pregnancy are right to worry.
Drugs can harm them and their babies. Drugs can also affect the ability of a woman to care for her newborn.
It is really hard to stop using drugs without help. The things that led a woman to do drugs may still be present. Her partner and friends may still be abusing drugs.
It is also really hard for some women to stop drinking during pregnancy. If this is true for you, please speak with your health care provider to find out what help is available. Your health care provider should be able to answer any questions you have or help you find the support you need.
On a different note, you may be taking prescription and over-the-counter drugs. If so, your health care provider can give you advice about the effects of these types of drugs and if you should stop taking any of them during pregnancy.