Pregnancy marks a time of gradual transition toward parenthood -- whether that means becoming the mother of one, two, three or more children. Not only are you growing a person within you, you are growing as a person as well. You can continue to effectively promote good health and general well-being by integrating these six self-care practices into your daily and weekly routines throughout pregnancy and parenthood. When you take care of yourself, you feel good about yourself. YOU deserve it and YOUR BABY does too!
1. Eat well. Feel well.
From your midwife or doctor to your friends to the all-knowing Internet, you've heard how critical it is to eat a wide variety of foods before and during pregnancy in order to optimally meet the nutritional demands of your growing baby and body. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends a varied, balanced diet made up of fruits, vegetables, protein foods, [whole] grains, oils/fats and minerals and vitamins. You can support your body's needs by eating foods rich in: folate, iron (fruits, vegetables, meats), calcium, and vitamin D. Many mothers work to increase the amount of these nutrients in their meal plans by incorporating more "whole foods" and getting adequate sun exposure.
In the early weeks of pregnancy, bouts of morning sickness may make it especially hard to always engage in healthy eating practices. Do your best to keep nutritious snacks on hand. Cut up fruit into pieces and store it in the fridge for a quick snack later. Fill small mason jars or plastic baggies with a combination of nuts and dried fruits for an on-the-go pick-me-up. Or you may even want to try making your own protein-filled granola bars.
You may also notice that at certain points in your pregnancy you have an overwhelming craving for sweets. This is your body's way of letting you know that you require more essential nutrients. Check out this chart to find out which ones.
2. Tend to Your Chompers
A tooth for a baby?! Well, not exactly. That's really just an old wives' tale. Yet it is still important to pay attention to your oral hygiene. Like eating healthful foods, taking care of your teeth during pregnancy is a wonderful opportunity to work in self-care practices in on a daily basis. Here are some important tips to help you maintain your oral health:
- If your morning sickness is causing you to camp out on the bathroom floor, hold off on brushing your teeth for about an hour. Stomach acid from vomitting and regular reflux can soften the enamel on your teeth. By brushing your teeth before your mouth and saliva have had a change to 'recover', you may actually be abrading the softened tooth enamel which often leads to further damage and decay. What can you do? Remove remaining acid by swishing a bit of water in your mouth and spitting it out. Read more here.
- Are you waking up with a dry mouth? Maybe your spouse or partner has even started complaining about your snoring? A stuffy nose, or nasal congestion, can cause you to breathe through your mouth at night time. Mouth-breathing at night not only robs you of more restful sleep, it literally dries out your mouth and decrease saliva production. Your saliva has a crucial job: it neutralizes acid and helps to wash away bacteria. Without it, you are more likely to experience tooth decay. What can you do? Avoid everything that triggers nasal congestion, grab yourself a package of nasal strips and/or saline solution from the drugstore around the corner, and try elevating your head and shoulders in bed. Read more here.
3. Focus on Relaxation
Find yourself at least 5 minutes several times throughout the day to relax -- to do something just for you. This can be anything that helps you find your balance: reading a book, abdominal breathing, meditation, singing, taking a bath, drinking a cup of tea, stretching, exercise, listening to music, etc. Your baby is acutely aware of how you are feeling and the stress you are exposed to. While it is not possible to control what happens in the world, taking time for yourself can go a long way in promoting a more balanced you. Check these fascinating talks on the mystical emotional connection mothers and babies share:
4. Don't Forget to... Move It! Move It!
Movement and exercise are essential to your physical health. During pregnancy, your body undergoes a phenomenal amount of change. Remaining active on a daily helps your body to release stress, prevent strain and pain, and accommodate the physical changes of your body. Maybe you were not so active before pregnancy? Start by consulting with your care provider about the kind of activities you are interested in engaging in. Usually moms are given the go ahead to take a swim, a walk, a light jog, join a yoga class, or even begin or continue other non-contact sport activities. Perhaps you are short on time and don't know where to start? Create a brief daily routine by selecting a set of Gaily Tully's daily and weekly activities for pregnancy on her website: www.spinningbabies.com.
So, those were exercises -- what about other types of movement? There are many other ways to supplement your daily exercise with movement. Take a moment to think about your body in anatomical terms: your muscles, joints, ligaments, etc. Consider care for your body at the fundamental level by getting regular chiropractic, osteopathic and/or massage support throughout your pregnancy. There are too many reasons to list here. The first and most basic of which is human touch. Human touch, including massage and prolonged positive physical contact with another human being such as hugs, for example, activates the release of the feel-good hormone oxytocin. It relieves stress, lowers blood pressure and heart rate, increases circulation and more. Chiropractic adjustments and osteopathic manipulations support your body and your pregnancy by improving alignment, relieving physical discomfort and may increase the likelihood of vaginal birth:
"The published evidence even suggests that regular chiropractic care may improve the probability of successful natural parturition."
- Cara L Borggren
5. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is about attending to and honoring all facets of you - who you are and where you are at physically and emotionally at this particular moment in time - in a non-judgmental way. By integrating mindfulness through meditation, you can take steps to release stress, tension and, to an extent, even pain. When you focus on the physical sensations of your body and belly as well as your emotional well-being, you both strengthen and deepen your connection with your baby. To learn more about daily meditative practices and activities during pregnancy, check out Mindful Birthing by Nancy Bardacke, CNM and/or download the android app, Mind the Bump.
A universal truth of motherhood that we tend to have difficulties accepting: by taking care of ourselves daily (beginning in pregnancy), we replenish our own spiritual and emotional wells of energy, peace and calmness which subsequently allows us to better care for our children and family.
6. Honor You & Your Emotions
Your joys, frustrations, worries or fears are worthy of validation. If, during pregnancy, you find yourself repeatedly (re)visited by certain thoughts, chances are that these concerns are deserving of your attention and contemplation. It does not matter if they pertain to finishing that special place you have created for your baby, completing necessary paperwork in advance, addressing health concerns or plan of care at your chosen birth location. If it's entered your mind, you owe it to yourself and your baby to acknowledge it as a legitimate emotion, thought or concern. It is only when you begin to approach your body and mind with a sense of thoughtful awareness, that you begin to truly honor yourself.
This goes hand-in-hand with gradually teaching yourself to leave negative self-talk behind and direct your efforts toward creating and maintaining an accepting, respectful dialogue about yourself and your abilities, including your ability to give birth in whichever way you feel is right for you. Consciously embracing self-acceptance and affirmations of self for all aspects of your life each and every day (including birth), will help you to connect to your inner strength and wisdom and prepare you for your unique path to parenthood. Discover which pregnancy and birth affirmations resonate with you. Take what works for you and leave the rest.
While regularly engaging in these healthy self-care practices can help you feel more prepared and achieve a greater sense of calm as the big day approaches, there is no way to guarantee that pregnancy and birth will go as expected, hoped or planned. Seeking prenatal care with a midwife or doctor whom you trust will go a long way in securing you and your baby the best possible start as you embark on your new beginning.
Wishing you a healthy pregnancy and a gentle, empowering birth. You and your baby deserve it!