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In generations past, cocktails were recommended for nervous, expectant mothers. Advertisements suggested that cigarettes could relax mothers-to-be. And some urged pregnant women to avoid excitement, and spend most of their time in bed.

And there seems to have been little agreement about how much exercise — if any — pregnant women should get.

Now, the advice couldn’t be more different. Researchers have learned more precisely what risks pregnant women face, and what they can do to protect their health — and the health of their unborn children. New research is increasingly revealing the dimensions of pregnant women’s vulnerability, its time frame, and long-lasting consequences.

But while there are many things expectant mothers should do, one thing they shouldn’t do is stress about what they can’t control.

“It’s not about living in fear, it’s about living life to its fullest,” said Dr. Hope A. Ricciotti, chairwoman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Pregnancy is also an opportunity for the mother to pick up good habits, Ricciotti said, and to lay a strong foundation for her child’s future health.

“It’s a jumping off point for exercise and dietary changes that can then stick for life,” Ricciotti said.

Today obesity is one of the biggest pregnancy dangers, Ricciotti and others said. Two-thirds of women are now overweight or obese — putting them at higher risk for pregnancy complications.

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