Pregnancy is a miraculous time for women. It often affords women a chance to hone skills that will assist them in labor and even more importantly throughout motherhood.
Pregnancy is a time of numerous changes – body changes, emotional changes, hormonal changes – all preparation for the giant step of becoming a mother. One of the lessons that pregnancy can teach women is to go beyond themselves, sometimes for the first time considering the well-being of another before their own personal needs. Women find the strength and dedication to achieve their goals in pregnancy that they could not or would not fulfill before their body was filled with another presence. With the knowledge that a woman is carrying another being, literally bringing another person into form, she is motivated to care for her body as a vehicle for miracles beyond herself.
She has more determination to eat well, not only for herself but even more importantly or so it feels, for this new body forming – for this offspring that she alone is growing and raising and that she will eventually bring out into the world. She may dedicate time to exercising and thinking of her body in a new way – as this miraculous process of birth proceeds, a woman comes to understand that her body is amazing, able to bring life, able to create family and a new richness is seen in her ability, the meaning of her life.
Women can also find it easier than ever before to avoid tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and medications during pregnancy as she sees her role as life giver. The habits of her previous life are softened and take on a different meaning when she sees the body as a vehicle for nurturing a new life. Sometimes these habits are difficult to stop and feel too challenging to manage along with the challenges of pregnancy. This is a great time to consider the meaning of these habits and coping mechanisms in contrast with this new life springing forth inside and what it is asking of the mother. Realizing that one is giving life and nurturing life within her own body can be that extra motivation to reach beyond the “easy answers” – the habitual responses that do not serve our higher good but keep us from caring for ourselves in ways that serve our health and wellness more deeply.
During pregnancy much time and attention goes towards the event of labor often perceived as an immense obstacle to overcome, but I think it is important to recognize it as just another gateway into becoming a mother, a parent. The decisions one makes around labor and how she handles the stress of pain and an intense situation such as labor is the first of many such decisions that a mother will make as her child grows. Early infancy and childhood ask mothers to make many decisions – how to feed her baby, her philosophy around teaching her child to sleep, how to meet the baby’s and later child’s developmental needs. Parenthood requires both mother and father to constantly assess situations, know themselves, and then implement decisions regarding how best to care for their offspring. Labor is a great first step in dealing with the unexpected if that has not already occurred in pregnancy. Life does provide many opportunities for responding to the unexpected and dealing with change.
Pregnancy Health Basics
There are choices a woman can make during pregnancy to help herself and nurture her growing baby at the same time. When the body feels like it has its own agenda, it is nice to be able to make choices that support one’s wellbeing and sense of balance.
1. Nutrition is key in pregnancy. I consider nutrition to be #1 in terms of contributing to a healthy pregnancy. For most of pregnancy a woman needs an extra meal per day (not twice her normal meals!) to feed her changing body and the developing baby. During the first trimester when many women feel nauseous, extra whole grain carbohydrates can be beneficial such as brown rice, oatmeal or granola, sweet potatoes and cooked vegetables such as winter squashes. Miso soup also tends to calm the stomach and eggs are an easy and often well tolerated source of protein. As the appetite increases and the stomach calms during second trimester, an increase in protein rich foods, vegetables and fruit are better tolerated and well needed. During the third trimester when the body feels the weight demands of the larger baby, the high quality fats are important for baby’s brain development such as nuts and seeds, fish, avocado, coconut oil and olive oil. Eating smaller meals are better tolerated with a focus on more protein and vegetables as preparation for labor.
2. Exercise. Exercise is even more important for mom than baby. Body changes during pregnancy are constant and one’s exercise routine should reflect these changes. Early on in pregnancy a woman can feel short of breath and fatigued, a time when less intense exercise is beneficial. Later when the body has adjusted to the hormonal shifts and weight changes, a woman can increase her exercise to pre-pregnancy levels if this is well tolerated. Anemia must always be taken into consideration as there is less oxygen available during anemia and exercise is not as well tolerated or supported. At the end of pregnancy many women enjoy water exercises to have moments of weightlessness where she can stretch her body and enjoy the water supporting her weight. Keeping cardiovascular health up during pregnancy helps with labor both psychologically as well as physically.
3. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, marijuana as well as decrease caffeine and sugar . These will lower incidences of pre-eclampsia, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, yeast infections and decrease the risk of medical intervention during labor and babying needing medical assistance after labor.
4. Time for quiet and centering. With the birth of a first child life changes in ways previously not fathomed. Pregnancy may be the last time for a while when a woman has time for herself, quiet time, reflective time. I recommend taking time regularly in pregnancy to check in with yourself, see how you feel, journal, meditate, pray, hike, walk… whatever feeds your soul. Life is about to change and the more centered you are, the easier it will be to respond to those changes. You will know yourself better and have a place from which you can make the decisions that will support you and your family.
Best wishes to you in your pregnancy! What an amazing time of life both for you and your baby – the first of many journeys you will take together.