If you are here, you are most likely pregnant, and congratulations and a virtual hug are in order! Whether you were trying for one month, one year, five years, or you weren’t trying at all, you will now want to do all you can to have a healthy, happy pregnancy. Your wellness habits during this time will have a direct effect not only on the physical health of your baby, but on your labor and delivery as well. I’m not going to take this time to discuss every single “do and don’t” of a healthy pregnancy, so please do your research and keep yourself informed (no deli meat or sushi!). For information on what you should avoid eating, medication you should avoid taking, etc…please consult your doctor. If you are still trying to get pregnant, read our article about being healthy while trying to get pregnant.
I personally loved being pregnant. I admit I was very lucky to not experience severe morning sickness. If I had, I’m not sure if I would have loved the pregnancy quite as much! One of the reasons I loved being pregnant is that I actually felt pretty good the entire time. Other than the obvious increased bathroom trips, trouble sleeping, back pain and some rib numbness, I felt strong and confident throughout my pregnancy. I have examined what allowed me to feel so good, and I would love to share that with all of you so you can have as happy and healthy a pregnancy as possible. In this article, we will discuss my personal experience during my pregnancy, as well as some common questions and issues I’ve seen with my pregnant clients and physical therapy patients over the years. The most important thing is that YOU feel comfortable with the choices you are making, and you come up with a health plan that works for you, your partner and your doctor.
I was 34 years old when we first started trying to get pregnant, so I had been around many, many friends with many, many babies. I had the added benefit of seeing countless pregnant women as a physical therapist, and hearing all of their pregnancy stories. I am a curious person by nature, so I had no shortage of questions for all of these amazing women when I had seen them in the past. What did you first feel? Did you get back pain? What did you eat? How long did you exercise? Did you continue to run? Did your boobs get sore? How did you get comfortable sleeping? When I finally got pregnant, I was somewhat prepared for what was coming (even though nothing completely prepares you!). Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions and find some good resources online so you are ready to pee four times a night and have shortness of breath climbing stairs.
While the internet is a great tool for researching and asking questions, I don’t think it compares to the real answers you can get from friends and family members. It helps to have a few close girlfriends who have been pregnant before that you can reach out to during your own pregnancy. While moms are awesome and have some great and loving advice, pregnancy rules have changed A LOT over the past 40 years (they didn’t use car seats when I was brought home from the hospital!). Have a couple friends who have been through this recently who can help you with everything from what to expect in the next OBGYN appointment to the most current carseats on the market to what hospitals they recommend in your area. I’ll never forget my second to last OB appointment before my due date. My ankles were suddenly HUGE and I had gained 5 lbs in literally 48 hours. My doctor didn’t seem concerned and my husband figured it was normal, but I had a minor freak out. I called two different friends who had very recently delivered and was assured this was very normal. They also understood exactly what I was feeling and could calm me down and make me laugh about it all at once. Those resources will be invaluable to you during this crazy time of pregnancy.
As I always tell you, I recommend talking to your doctor about specific exercise guidelines while you are pregnant. I have found, though, that most doctors say “Do what feels good to you”, so my patients continue to come to me asking my advice. I can tell you only what worked for ME and what many case studies currently show. As I said above, the most important thing is that what you do really does feel good to you. It needs to feel good physically, and it needs to feel good intuitively. I know many people run throughout their pregnancies and do great with this. I did a little jogging in my first trimester, but I just wasn’t into it. There was something in my gut holding me back, so I stopped. I did a lot of different activities – including handstands and planks – throughout my pregnancy, but running just didn’t feel right for ME. Listen to your body in these ways and don’t feel, just because your best friend did something, you need to.
The general rule for physical activity during pregnancy is not to start something new. Don’t start a Zumba class or CrossFit after you get pregnant if you’ve never done them before. One exception to this is specific prenatal classes. There are many prenatal Pilates and yoga classes out there, and they are specifically designed for pregnancy. Most of these classes are appropriate during pregnancy even if you haven’t done a lot of Pilates or yoga in the past. If you were doing a specific form of exercise before you got pregnant, most doctors will tell you it’s safe to continue it during pregnancy.
I also recommend to my clients not to use pregnancy as a time to really improve your running times or increase the weight you lift. It’s a time to stay active and status quo. Your body is going through so many changes during this time! This includes: 50% increased blood volume (which can lead to dizziness and headaches), decreased lung capacity, increased laxity in your joints, muscle imbalances as your posture changes to accommodate your growing belly and energy expenditure alterations. If you are already very active and strong and healthy, use this time simply to maintain your current status. If you have been a couch potato in the past, now is a great time to start a walking and prenatal Pilates routine. You can then make goals to improve your strength after the baby is born. While I kept lifting weights at the gym, I decided to either keep the weight the same, or lighten it slightly and do more repetitions. That worked really well for me, and I never felt strain in my muscles.
Whatever you decide is best for you during pregnancy, I recommend you stay active in some way! I can’t emphasize enough the benefits I’ve seen with my clients who have had a regular fitness routine while pregnant. Of course, some women have high risk pregnancies and are told they cannot exercise, and, if this is you, IT’S OK! You have to do what’s best for you and your baby! If you have been ok’d by your doctor to exercise, please find something that motivates you and works for you and try to do it 3-4x/wk. Personally, I worked out 6-7 days/wk when I was pregnant. Working out was actually one of the few things that always felt good. I had mid-back pain that made it really uncomfortable to sit and lay down, but walking felt awesome. I got bad migraines, and doing Pilates (in the air conditioning 🙂 really helped. Yoga kept my hips open and ready for birth. I also hiked, swam, lifted weights, did the elliptical machine and rode my bike. A friend once told me that labor and delivery are like a marathon, and you need to train for that marathon during pregnancy. I couldn’t agree more! Keep your energy levels up and stay strong, and both delivery and recovery will be much easier.
4) Prenatal vitamins
I don’t need to tell you that you MUST be taking a high quality prenatal vitamin. Your doctor has probably already informed you to take a multivitamin with folic acid, and an Omega 3 supplement (usually in the form of fish oil). I personally took USANA’s prenatal vitamins, and continue now with their HealthPak. Your doctor will also probably have recommendations for you. Stay consistent every day with your vitamins. If they make you feel sick to your stomach, try another brand. Good quality vitamins should not have this effect. For both the health of your baby and your own health during pregnancy, prenatal vitamins are necessary.
There is a long list of foods to avoid while pregnant, and I’ve included a link above if you don’t already have that information. While raw fish and Brie cheese are out, apparently you can eat all the ice cream you want! Or not. I seriously had visions of eating cake and cookies and all these foods I had cut out of my diet as my “reward” for going through pregnancy. Then I actually became pregnant and heard that little heart beat the first time. It immediately hit home that everything I would put in my mouth for 9 months would somehow be transferred to my sweet baby. While that didn’t cut out every sugar craving I had, it did make me think twice about all drive-through’s, non-organic meat and dairy products and convenience foods.
I also probably don’t need to tell you it isn’t the best idea to give into every sugar craving you might have, or every burger and fry desire. While “you are eating for two” is a common saying, it doesn’t apply to calorie intake. We actually don’t need any extra calories during the first trimester, and then only about 150 extra calories a day during the second trimester, and 300 extra calories a day during the third trimester. 150 calories is two eggs or a small granola bar, and 300 calories is a piece of whole wheat toast with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. If you eat your way through every Ben and Jerry’s flavor while pregnant, you will make your life a little harder post-pregnancy if you want to get back to your original weight. Honestly, that was my motivation. Any time I thought “I’m pregnant, I’m going to eat whatever I want!” I remembered that I probably COULD eat what I wanted, but I would have to pay for it at some point when I wanted to lose the weight again. In addition to the weight gain, I just felt in my being that high levels of sugar and white flour and caffeine would affect my baby’s demeanor later on. I can’t give you research for that, I just really felt that I could help her coping mechanisms and general mellowness in the womb and the world by nourishing my body during pregnancy. I figured if I was feeling that, I needed to go with it. You are pregnant, and you do deserve treats now and then! Just keep it in check and have it when you really want it, not “just because”.
Keep in mind the general nutrition guidelines and follow them when you can, but also remember that there will be times salads, cooked veggies and even fruit might not taste good. You might not even stand the smell of them! I could eat raw salads at lunch, but never at dinner. There was also a week during my first trimester when I wanted only bean burritos with cheese. So I had them four nights in a row, and it was awesome. Instead of going out where I couldn’t trust the ingredients or how it was made, I bought whole wheat tortillas, canned organic refried beans and organic shredded cheese and salsa. I still think about those burritos – they tasted THAT good. You will have real cravings and may have nausea or worse, and you will need to eat what you can, when you can. Just try to chose the best ingredients possible in those times, and go with it.
6) Aches and Pains
There are many common pain complaints during pregnancy. These can include carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, low back pain, groin pain, numbness/tingling, sciatica and muscle tightness. These are related to many things, but usually come down to two issues. The first is that you now have a hormone called “relaxin” in your body. This is meant to cause laxity in your ligaments and joints, preparing your pelvis for birth. As your baby grows, you will also experience some postural changes as your body adapts to the different weight and forces put on it. You just can’t predict how your body might respond to these changes. I have had patients and friends who had horrible back pain for years, and felt great during pregnancy. On the flip side, many strong and healthy women get aches and pains almost immediately during pregnancy. Sometimes the pain will appear and then disappear two months later. If you start to experience any pain, tell your doctor. I would then highly recommend physical therapy. Your doctor can write you a prescription and it’s often times covered by insurance. We at Harmony have helped so many women feel better and stay strong during their pregnancy, and my wish is that every pregnant woman knew there is help for feeling better during this time! Acupuncture and chiropractic care are also alternative forms of treatment that have helped some. Whatever avenue you chose, make sure your clinician has experience working on pregnant women.
7) Mental health
Oh my this is a crazy time! I remember crying in the shower for NO REASON – multiple times. I wondered what was wrong with me, until my friends reassured me this is normal, and I then reassured my wonderful and patient husband. Your hormones are on a rampage. Your body is changing in wonderful, miraculous and strange ways. You are in pain and uncomfortable. You may be nervous about finances, your change in identity, whether you will be a good mother, and how your relationships with change. Then you have a labor and delivery coming that you might not know anything about! Finally, you have everyone around you telling you what a blissful time pregnancy is, when you can’t see your feet and are crying in the shower – again.
Please know this is normal, and find a way that you can be at peace with it all. I had wanted a baby for so long, that I just focused on gratitude my entire pregnancy. With every pain and discomfort, I remembered how grateful I was to be experiencing it at all. I rubbed my belly and prayed and meditated over our baby every night, which was my way of letting go of my worries and anxiety about her and her health. I exercised, I laughed, I rocked my huge belly in a bikini and didn’t apologize for it. I let my amazing friends pamper me with a phenomenal Mother’s Blessing baby shower, and I took a baby-moon with my husband. I don’t know if these things would work for you, but this is YOUR story and you can write the words and pages. Take care of yourself and your heart during this amazingly sacred time, and your precious little one will be taken care of as well.