People treat you differently when you're 32 weeks pregnant. The parking lot attendant where I work looks at me askance—as if he fears I'll have my baby at his valet stand—and then graciously carries my bags. Strangers help you with groceries; even the TSA people are nice.
But the truth is that I treat myself differently when I'm pregnant too. As a medical doctor I try to take better care of myself and follow the same advice that I give my own pregnant patients. I'm currently expecting baby No. 2, and this time around I'm trying to be more intentional about my habits. Here are a few old habits that I've tried to ditch for my health and the health of my baby.
1. I stopped letting little things get under my skin.
According to my husband, I can have a temper (I CAN'T BELIEVE HE SAID THAT). But high stress levels and angry outbursts aren't good for baby or for me. Why? According to one study, in utero exposure to higher cortisol levels made babies more sensitive1 to stress and caused them to display higher levels of anxiety, even as toddlers. In addition, a fetus hears mom's voice better than any other, so my voice truly sets the tone for my baby's perceptions of the outside world—which means I need to set a good example.
2. I stopped drinking alcohol.
I found out I was pregnant three days before we flew to Napa, so I pulled out my little medical textbooks and research, feverishly hoping that some new study would give me license to indulge in a few glasses. Here's what we know:
- Alcohol freely crosses the placenta and fetal blood alcohol levels approach mom's levels in about two hours. If there is a "safe" amount of alcohol to consume while pregnant we don't know what it is. It's also likely different—and unpredictable—for every woman and baby depending on mom's liver metabolism and drinking patterns, her baby's genes, and other factors.
- We also know that even moderate drinking (one to six drinks per week) is associated with genetic modifications and a lower IQ.
And so for me, this means that the only safe level is none. Of course, I'll have a pump-and-dump wine celebration in a few months!
3. I stopped shortchanging my sleep.
In my 20s, I wore lack of sleep like a badge of honor. But slowly I realized the impact it had on everything from my arthritis to my sanity, and now that I'm pregnant again, I'm not pushing as hard to burn the candle at both ends. My best advice to expecting mothers is this:
- Make sure you have a bedtime routine (if it works for your child, it will work for you).
- Try to avoid multitasking at high gear after you put the kids to sleep at night. It's time for you to wind down as well.
- Ask your spouse or family to lend a hand so you can sleep, and don't worry so much about the dishes in the sink.
Pregnancy changes your priorities.
As a physician I've seen women quit smoking cold turkey the moment they see that the test is positive. I've seen women who never set foot in a gym start a walking regimen and others completely transformed their diets. It's been no different for me as I make small changes for the sake of the precious little one that I'm carrying.
But if I can make these changes for the health of my little one, shouldn't I care enough about my own well-being to keep up the changes after he arrives? With that revelation in mind, here are three habits that I started when I got pregnant and that I plan to keep long after my baby is born.
1. I started juicing and drinking smoothies regularly.
I'll admit that I didn't initially understand the juice craze, but now it is my new obsession! These are my general guidelines for juices and smoothies:
- The USDA recommends five to thirteen servings of fruits and veggies a day, and if you're short, veggie smoothies are an easy way to get in a few extra servings.
- Choose your own, but I love a blend of spinach, blueberries, banana, apple, two dates, and 1 tablespoon of spirulina for a punch of vitamins and iron.
- To avoid a calorie bomb, stick to fruits and veggies only, and avoid additions like sweeteners, milks (dairy or nut), or fruit juice.
2. I started wogging.
Running is my stress relief, my punching bag, and my tool for staying sane. But during this pregnancy, things started bouncing. Cutting exercise left me with no energy, so now I either "wog" (alternating a slow jog with walking) or walk briskly at an incline. This is why:
- Both are great for muscle tone, totally possible with a protruding belly, and allow you to adjust a workout based on how you're feeling.
- Exercise is great during pregnancy and you can generally continue with whatever exercise you were doing before you became pregnant (assuming it's not sky diving or stunt water skiing).
If you weren't much of an exerciser, that's OK. Simple activities like wogging, yoga, cycling, and swimming are great. And when you hit that afternoon exhaustion block, nothing is better than a 10-minute wog—not even a nap!
3. I created my own mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is a huge buzzword these days, but the health benefits before, during, and after pregnancy are real. Bonus: You don't have to be super spiritual to see the effects!
- In one study, pregnant women who recorded their physical and mental feelings reported better well-being and satisfaction, even after the baby was born.
- Your own level of mindfulness can affect your child's emotional development for the better.
- Start with simple mindfulness exercises or try a guided meditation.
So, what I'm saying is, even though I can't see my feet anymore, I'm a little more Zen about it this time around, and it has prompted me to adjust my habits, which is good for baby and even good for me! I made these changes for the health of my baby—but now I'll have baby to thank for these habits long after he is born.
Dr. Darria is a board-certified Harvard- and Yale-trained Emergency physician, favorite expert on national TV shows including CNN, HLN, The Dr. Oz Show, and The Doctors, mom of two, and author of the new book Mom Hacks (Hachette Book Group). Mom Hacks hits shelves on February 19th, sharing 100 supercharged solutions to help everyone take control of their health and find their “I’ve GOT this”