Congratulations! Being pregnant is a 9-month journey that brings with it a rollercoaster of emotions as you try to navigate the new set of rules you have been given. Before you found out you were pregnant, all of the decisions you made were for you and about you. Now however, you find yourself unable and unwilling to have that glass of wine at night, the coffee in the morning, the sushi at lunch and the soft cheese with crackers with the ham sandwich at the Sunday picnic. Not to mention exercise and sleep. Some days you wake up, put on your gym gear, only to lie down for “just a few minutes” and wake to find at least an hour has disappeared from your day.
It has been 9 years since I was pregnant. I can’t believe it has gone so quickly. I continue to read books, attend conferences and watch TED talks relating to pregnancy and early childhood and am thrilled with the amount of quality information out there. Information explaining how much weight gain is OK, what a birth plan can look like, who your support team in hospital could include, where you can birth, how long and what kind of exercises are safe, what you can and cannot eat, recommended tests during pregnancy, how your moods and foods can affect the fetus and the benefits of saving your baby’s chord blood. Phew!! SO many things to consider. And what are the right answers?
Some of the answers are personal. Vaginal birth or abdominal birth? Hospital or home? Midwife or Obstetrician? Others are more general and it is these topics I will focus my article on. It seems that there is a Goldilocks effect for most things in life and pregnancy is no exception. Too much and too little weight gain has been associated with health problems and lower IQ for the baby later in life. Too much exercise has been associated with pubic symphysis pain, rectus diastasis and increased fatigue for mum. Stress is another thing pregnant women need to be aware of. Some stress is good for mum and bub, but too much can have devastating effects on the long-term health of the child.
So just what can pregnant women eat, do and be? I have listed 5 things every pregnant woman can do to have the healthiest outcome for her and bub as possible. Research is showing that the environment the fetus gets in the womb has knock on effects into school years and beyond. If you are considering pregnancy in the near future and are starting to gather information, well done. All of the things listed below will be applicable to you as well. Just like cleaning your house before a rent inspection, cleaning your body will make the environment your fetus “rents” from you more supportive to a healthy outcome.
Eating during pregnancy has a long list of items that are “off the list” but I want to share with you the foods that are On the List. These are foods that support a healthy immune system, proper brain development and will encourage optimal weight gain. Fruits and veggies are at the top of the list and the more organic produce you can add into your weekly grocery shop the better. Fresh produce provides an array of available vitamins and minerals to both you and bub and the fiber helps to keep things moving comfortably. Essential Fatty Acids are just that: Essential. These gems are used for brain and nerve system development. If you are eating a variety of fresh fruits and veggies you are already getting a good supply of these Omega oils. Foods to regularly include in your diet to get a dose of your Omegas include spinach, walnuts, Chia seeds, avocados and olive oil to name a few. You can top up this amount by taking a quality fish oil supplement or by having fish with your meals.
Exercise is another great way to keep weight gain at a healthy level, help reduce stress and keep your body balanced. If you are already active before pregnancy, then it is easier and advised to remain active. You will just need to adapt your routine and level of intensity as the pregnancy progresses. If you aren’t already active, pregnancy is not the time to start an intensive boot camp class or join a Cross Fit gym. Start slow and choose an activity you enjoy because you will get the most benefit from exercise if you are able to maintain it throughout most of your pregnancy. Great pregnancy exercises include swimming (not breast stroke due to the leg movements), walking or hiking and Pilates.
Mindfulness is a hot topic these days and for good reason. Tuning into your breathing helps to regulate the stress hormone, Cortisol and increase your feel good hormones. Being able to connect with your breath to control your heart rate and breathing rate can also come in handy during labour. Incorporating yoga into your daily or weekly practice helps to calm your nerve system, tune you into your body and connect with bub. Regular stretching also helps keep your body balanced and supple, ready to give birth to your cherub.
Chiropractic is a physical modality that can help provide comfort and pain relief during pregnancy. Your sacrum is the bone in the middle of your pelvis in the back and several ligaments attach to it creating stability for your uterus and your pelvis. Altered movement of this area has been associated with sciatica, lower back pain and pubic symphysis pain. Research has proven chiropractic to be safe, gentle and effective for helping women through pregnancy. All techniques are changed accordingly to work with the pregnant mother’s body and hormones.
Knowledge is power. The more you know about your body, the stages of labour, your options during pregnancy and birth and what your fears or worries are, the better prepared you can be for birthing your baby. Some couples have a birth plan that reads, “get the baby out”, while others have a list of essential oils to have diffusing, what music they want playing in the background, what natural pain relief they want and who will be their support tribe. Keep in mind a birth plan is just that; a plan. Sometimes things need to be altered and adjusted and that is OK. Having a plan for your journey through pregnancy and birth is like having a plan for your holiday. The more you know, the more adventures and experiences you can have that will make your journey one you will remember with fondness. Knowledge is empowering. I encourage you to take an active role in learning about your baby and the what you will do to navigate the often confusing road of pregnancy and birth.
In conclusion, remember your body was built to birth your baby. Hormones circulate to help your pelvis expand and bub’s head moulds to fit through your pelvis. The more you can work with your body and gravity, the easier the process will be. Gravity is a constant in our lives and so use it with reckless abandon! Standing, squatting and kneeling are all good positions that help open the pelvic outlet, maintain spinal and pelvic integrity and encourage bub into the outside world. In the final weeks of your pregnancy, try on a few different positions to see what works for you, your partner and your support team. This is a magical time filled with emotions and quite a few unknowns. Take care of yourself, breathe deeply and know that you can do this!