Maintaining a healthy heart isn’t something to take lightly. With heart disease now considered the No. 1 cause of death for women, pregnant women need to take extra precautions in order to keep themselves and their unborn babies healthy and safe.

Whether or not you have a pre-existing medical condition, maintaining your heart health for the next nine months should be every mother-to-be’s most important job—not only for herself, but for her baby.

Under Pressure

During pregnancy, a woman’s blood pressure typically goes through a period of fluctuation. “Blood pressure is the same as a non-pregnant state in the first trimester,” says Dr. Daniel Roshan (www.roshmfm.com). “It goes down in the second trimester and returns to a non-pregnant state in the third trimester.” Any women who suffer from chronic hypertension should be closely monitored for a spike in numbers, either by their doctor or by using a home blood pressure unit themselves. According to Roshan, these patients have a greater risk for developing preeclampsia, which can prompt pre-term labor. “All pregnant patients should be monitored for this condition, as 3-5 percent of pregnancies are complicated by preeclampsia,” he adds.

In order to keep your blood pressure under control, doctors strongly advise maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise. “If you are physically fit, all you need to do is continue with your present regimen,” recommends Dr. Richard L. Shames (www.thyroidpower.com). Just be mindful of downgrading your exercise routine as your pregnancy progresses. “Women who are in shape because they are runners may want to shift to a more non-impact aerobic activity for the third trimester,” he adds.

Even if you are not physically fit, taking up power-walking for brief stretches can benefit you and your baby during your entire pregnancy. “During the first trimester, this will help with fatigue and morning sickness,” says Shames. “During the second trimester, [walking] will assist in proper blood flow for you and your [developing] baby. And during the third trimester, it will help with reducing the likelihood of stagnant blood or lymph flow in the legs.”

Whether you are regular or semi-active, experts caution against starting up any new rigorous exercise routine. “As pregnancy progresses, certain types of exercise may be not recommended—vigorous aerobics with jumping or horseback-riding, for instance—and intervals of training may be reduced,” says Dr. Diana Hoppe (www.drdianahoppe.com). She advises that pregnant women keep a maximum heart rate of 140 beats per minute during cardio-exercise, which is lower than non-pregnant women.

Eating Heart-Smart

Making healthy choices in your diet is also essential to maintaining heart health during pregnancy. But don’t be fooled into thinking you should over-indulge. “The myth that pregnant women should be eating for two should be eliminated,” states Roshan. “Excessive weight gain during pregnancy leads to many complications, such as bigger babies, diabetes, hypertension and labor complications.” The recommended diet is 2,000-2,400 calories per day, with 50 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent protein and 25 percent lipids.

To strive for this well-balanced diet, Shames suggests varying your food choices. “Eat from a wide selection of above and below the ground [fruits and veggies], both juicy and leafy items, of all different colors,” he offers. “Try out different kinds of lean protein, and munch on stacks of seeds, nuts and sprouts.” Shames also recommends minimizing your intake of fried foods and trans fats.

Hoppe lauds fruits and vegetables “not just for their anti-oxidant benefits and cardio-protection, but also for fiber content, which decreases risk of constipation. Consume healthy oils—olive oil, coconut oil, avocados and walnuts—and avoid any processed foods [as] they lack nutrients and increased inflammation, the leading cause of heart disease,” she says. Finally, don’t forget to take your daily prenatal vitamins, which contain Omega 3 fatty acids for a strong, healthy heart.