Pregnancy marks the beginning of parenthood. We often think that we only become a parent after the birth, but it really starts at conception. Once we know we are pregnant, everything we eat, drink, breathe, say, think… becomes relevant in a whole new way.
This time is hugely important. A woman needs to start nurturing herself almost as if a baby, so as to be strong, healthy and relaxed throughout the process. Not only for her body/mind but also for her child’s. Taking care of yourself is the first and most basic way to show your child how to take care of him/herself down the line.
Pregnancy is an optimal time to drop into YOURSELF. To truly listen to your body, your mind, your heart. For most of us, parenthood is a gigantic change. After all, you’ve been you for a long time. Now, you will be a guiding light and force for your precious little new human. It’s a big deal. Not only do you have to grow it and birth it, but then you also have to keep it alive! It can be overwhelming, but just remember that people have been doing it since the beginning of time. And, so can YOU!
I am a big proponent of the middle path. And what that means is different for every person out there. So mama, tune into you and how you feel each and every day, as it will surely change as your baby grows.
Here are some helpful guidelines which can help you stay healthy, sane, comfortable and happy throughout the twisting and windy road of pregnancy.
1. Nourish: Feed yourself the BEST food you can get your hands on. As we know, diet plays a huge part in a healthy pregnancy. There are more and more scientific studies documenting how a mother’s diet sets her child up for future health. So, take this to heart. Fill your diet with tons of organic fruits and vegetables, lean or vegetarian protein sources, lots of leafy veggies, whole grains, fresh water and healthy beverages. The old adages of “eating for two” or “just go wild, you’re pregnant” do not serve you or your child. In fact, eating a lot of junk puts you and your baby at risk for preterm labor, low birth weight, gestational diabetes, a baby with a predisposition to be overweight and a very hard time for you to lose your pregnancy weight, which often adds to the risk of postpartum depression.
I am not saying that you need to be neurotic about the weight you gain, but you do need to pay attention to it. If you are eating a nutrient-packed diet that is low in processed foods, your body will gain just as much as it needs and most likely will shed the weight quickly after birth. The new doctor recommended weight gain range is 25-35 pounds, not the 60-80 pounds that you often see. That is not a lot.
I was extremely sick for the first six months of my pregnancy and actually lost ten pounds during my first trimester (not fun), and I still managed to gain 25-30 pounds while eating small and well-balanced meals. During pregnancy your body automatically knows how to hold onto calories to feed your baby. You do not need to stuff yourself. If you suffer from morning sickness for months on end, just be kind to yourself and do the best you can. I found that low-fat, bland carbs often helped, and then I incorporated vegan protein powder into my shakes whenever I could. Smoothies are a great way to get in protein, carbohydrates from fruit as well as your leafy greens like kale, spinach or even lettuce. If you are having a really strong craving, then go for it from time to time. But, just be aware of what you put into your body for you and your growing child. Your baby will actually pull ALL that it needs from YOUR body. So you, the mother, will be left deficient if you do not refill your reserves with living vibrant nutrition.
2. Move: It is important to move a little every day if you can. Even just aiming for light stretching/yoga or a light walk greatly benefits your body. I had envisioned continuing my strenuous daily yoga practice and hiking up until delivery. HA! Things turned out very differently. I was so sick, I often had to crawl to the bathroom and had to hobble around with sciatica pain like an old lady. This is the real yoga! Letting go of what your body used to be able to do and learning to be in this moment, with each breath.
This is a wonderful time to nurture yourself from the inside and out and learn to work with your body, not against it. I actually totally changed my outlook on slow and restorative yoga; I LOVE it now! It is a special time in my day when the baby is napping and I get to lie down on the floor, breathe and get into deliciously rejuvenating poses.
3. Meditate: This is also a great time to commit to or start a meditation practice. Amazing what that will do for your mind, heart and spirit during this wild ride of pregnancy. Just a few minutes can do wonders. It will help you learn to discipline your mind to savor those precious “free” moments you have, to stop the anxiety, push aside the to-do list, and soften the constant inner chatter.
I personally am a practicing Buddhist and chant twice a day. My baby knows the chant! Even as a newborn, she would calm down immediately when we set her down in front of our altar to chant. She stares up at the altar with a knowing gaze. She has heard it from conception on, and I know that it has contributed to her very calm nature.
4. Love: Attention expecting mama: your heart is about to explode over and over like you won’t believe! This love begins to grow and radiate throughout your pregnancy. Let it shine on yourself, too. You are embarking on what is possibly your biggest and most amazing life project, giving life! So, be proud of yourself. Acknowledge how much work it is, and take care of yourself. If you are the type to not do a lot of self-care, this is the perfect opportunity to give it a try. Go get prenatal massages, prenatal yoga classes, natural pedi/manis, splurge on healthy treats, etc. This is the time to baby yourself, because soon all of your attention will be going to your real baby.
5. Connect: Women often speak of how they feel like a true woman during their pregnancy. Pregnancy is a time to connect to your female power and the women around you. Everything becomes more woman. Your boobs get bigger, your belly obviously gets bigger, your hair grows like crazy, your fingernails grow and become stronger, you have a sexy glow… It’s no coincidence that men find pregnant women so gorgeous. It’s because it is heightened womanhood. Nowadays, it is totally acceptable to rock your belly, which is awesome. You no longer have to wear gingham tent dresses. To me, there is nothing sexier than seeing a fit, strong, pregnant woman wearing clothes that accentuate her baby belly.
6. Communicate: Ah, communication. Hard for most of us. This is a crucial time to look at your patterns in regards to communication. If you are someone that avoids confrontation to the nth degree, now is the time to muster up courage, and learn to speak up. If you are someone who lashes out and is filled with drama, this is a time for you to learn to hold your tongue, and focus on the important stuff.
I stress the importance of healthy communication, because in those first months of living with a newborn, you and your partner will be tested like never before on zero to little sleep. Those first six months are no joke. It’s like going into battle each and every day, cracked out on no sleep, while also making all of your baby’s food (if breastfeeding).
Yes, there will be times when you are hormonal and snappy (read: total nightmare), but that is to be expected. Pregnancy can be a wonderfully romantic and love-filled time with your partner. It can take some effort, but it is well worth it. Do not forget about your partner’s needs. He/she most likely has just as many fears/concerns as you do, even if they are different. Relish in this love fest. Protect it. Do not sweat the small stuff. Do not pick fights. Do not obsess over the details. Everything will change anyway when the baby comes. Having the “perfect” nursery or closet full of baby clothes or best stroller does not mean anything. All that matters is that mama is healthy and happy and ready to spread all of that goodness to the next generation.