7 Tips for Staying on Track for a Healthy and Happy Pregnancy
by ciara clark
Pregnancy is one of the most challenging, exciting, and weirdest times in a woman's life. It's a stellar combination of joy, lack of control, and complete confusion about what is supposed to be happening in your body. As I’m currently nine months into my first pregnancy, I’ve experienced every wave of emotion, from secretly struggling with the pain of potentially losing my first child, to sharing the news with loved ones, and now embracing the smiles from complete strangers at the mere sight of my silhouette.
It’s been quite the journey and certainly one of the most optimal times to be putting yourself first. Well today I'm going to share with you some tips and insights that have helped me to stay focused and healthy throughout my pregnancy. Pregnancy is such a personal thing, and every woman's experience is going to be different. Use this as a guideline, take what you need, and trust that you're body knows exactly what it needs to stay healthy and on track during this special time.
1. Maximize Digestion
One of my basic tenets for eating is to start your day off with something light and fresh. Heading into pregnancy with the awareness that my digestion was going to be compromised, I became super vigilant about eating in such a way that was going to eliminate waste and increase my energy in the most efficient way possible. The extra surge of progesterone and relaxin circulating within a pregnant women's body causes the smooth muscles of the GI tract to become relaxed and loose. In other words, your digestive system becomes sluggish and limited in its ability to operate at its maximum capacity.
Two of the best ways to enhance your digestion first thing in the morning are to 1) drink a TON of water, and 2) start your day off with a smoothie. Try adding a tablespoon of lemon or lime juice to a glass of warm water to kick start digestion by eliminating waste in the GI tract. Following this with a nutrient packed, predigested, smoothie is going to free up a lot of that digestive energy that can leave you feeling sluggish and, oftentimes, bloated throughout the day.
2. Be Gentle With Yourself
How cliché of me, I know! At the end of the day, listen to your body and just know that you're doing the best that you can. Pregnancy can be a tough time for most. Your hormones are fluttering everywhere. One minute you're feeling this way and then the next minute, you're feeling something else.
Out of all of these tips, this was a big one for me. I'll admit, I envisioned this perfect plan of how I thought my pregnancy was going to be. I had already developed a solid routine of working out and moving my body every single day, eating nourishing foods, and just keeping up with this lifestyle that I'd crafted for myself over the years. My husband, who's a former personal trainer, even created a pregnancy workout plan for me full of modifications to easily guide me into keeping up with my routine. Let's just say that my pregnancy didn't work out the way that I wanted it to be. I hit a bunch of roadblocks, including physical limitations, and cravings for food that I haven't eaten in years. Did I have my daily smoothie everyday? Absolutely not! When I was craving grits and eggs, I had my grits and eggs. End of story. Just know that you're a powerful human being that can get back on track whenever you can. Your mental health is just as important as your physical. Remember that.
3. Master the Art of Positive Thinking
This is another big one for me, because the mind is truly such a powerful thing. Like I said, your mental health is everything, and there are going to be challenges.
I've experienced a gamut of limitations, including "complications" that put me on modified bed rest for several weeks, low energy where I couldn’t help but to take naps throughout the day, hardcore food aversions where I couldn't stomach the site of any fruit or vegetable that I was used to eating, headaches, sciatica pain, body aches, and not to mention all of the changes that rapidly happen to your body that have you feeling like the nutty professor. I got upset with myself, a lot, because I wasn't able to keep up with this "perfect" lifestyle that I had crafted for myself. Upset, because I wasn't able to live up to the expectations that other people had bestowed upon me, because they've seen "other women" do it!
Changing my mindset by focusing on the things that I could control was an absolute game changer for me. My personal daily mantra throughout this whole pregnancy has been "I am healthy and I am strong," because I know that I am! Quit with the comparison game and stay in your own lane. This journey has given me so much character and grace. Grace for knowing that I'm doing the best that I can each and everyday.
4. Consider Water Your Best Friend
What exactly does that mean? It means that you should be drinking for maximum hydration each and everyday. I hate speaking in absolutes, but I'm going to run with this one today.
I think we're all pretty familiar with the fact that water is a vital component to the overall health and hydration of the body. When your body is dehydrated, it's natural to experience some of the biggest side effects of dehydration, which include decreased levels in your immunity, headaches, energy slumps, and a serious lack of cleansing and detoxification happening in the body. Now why is this more crucial when you're pregnant?
Well, your body needs more water to cope with the demands of your pregnancy. Consider it to be one of the most crucial nutrients for your baby. The more water that is consumed, the greater your chances will be in supporting higher blood volumes, fetal circulation, and replenishing the amniotic fluid for your baby. Additionally, the consumption of water can help alleviate some of the unpleasant side effects of pregnancy, including morning sickness, swollen feet and ankles, edema, constipation, and certain infections. Oh the joys of pregnancy! Simply empowering yourself with the tools that you'll need could make your pregnancy a little less stressful.
I am no saint over here, as I'm just as human as the rest of you. Sometimes I forget, so I’ll carry my 40 oz container of water everywhere that I go, drinking 40 oz before noon, and another 40+ oz throughout the rest of the day. This is also supplemented with eating hydrating foods, which include lots of fruits and vegetables. Aim to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces, and you're good to go.
5. Make Time for Self-care
I think as women, we're used to doing it all. We work, take care of the household, our partners, our families, the list is often endless, so there is no better time than now when it comes to focusing on your own self-care.
What does that look like for you? It can be anything really. For me, self-care entails getting brunch with my girlfriends where we can laugh and talk about mindless things as a form of escapism from the demands of the world. Self-care is waking up at least one hour before my husband, so I can relax and ease into my morning, maybe enjoying some tea or reading 30 minutes of a good book. Self-care also includes going to bed early and sleeping in, because that's what my body really needs right now. Let's face it, once baby is here, it's back to reality. Get those zzz's in now!
6. Embrace the Power of Diaphragmatic Breathing
Through my own personal yoga practice and investigation into pelvic floor therapy, I have become seriously dedicated to the art of diaphragmatic breathing. The diaphragm is the most efficient muscle of breathing and when performed correctly, it’s one of the best ways to reduce anxiety, cope with stress, increase nutrients into the body, and address muscle imbalances that exist within the core.
Now we all know that engaging in front body core work is basically pointless during pregnancy, but it’s also detrimental to the expansion of the belly. There are other ways that you can focus on keeping the transverse abdominis muscles strong, such as engaging in the practice of belly breathing. The benefits of diaphragmatic breathing can produce an immediate effect on a pregnant woman’s body and it’s such a simple and practical benefit that anyone can really do.
Start off by finding yourself in a comfortable seated position. Take a deep breath into your nose and exhale out through the mouth. Now put one hand on your chest, and the opposite on your belly. Focus on intentionally breathing as the belly expands on the inhale and contracts on the exhale. How do you feel?
7. Make Connections with Women in Your Community
With women who are either currently pregnant or who have experienced this journey firsthand, that is. Pregnancy can often feel like a very isolating and lonely experience. There are so many challenges and changes that are happening in the body, which are, often times, accompanied with mixed feelings and emotions about what may be going on.
Personally, I had a lot of questions, and really struggled with whom to reach out to and how much to share. When I ventured into taking prenatal yoga classes, I felt like I was on cloud 9! Before every class, we would introduce ourselves, while expressing how far along we were and any complications or questions that have come up during our pregnancies. It was great! I made connections with new mamas and we got to share our personal experiences. This alleviated a lot of the stress and anxiety that I was experiencing, allowing me to feel that much more confident with journeying through the rest of this process.
Personally, I've been feeling more relaxed about pregnancy, and the impending labor, than I did almost nine months ago. Finding a community of women to vent and relate to will do so much for your mental and physical wellbeing. Trust me. Find your tribe and start forming those relationships now. You’re entering into a new life; a new journey! It’s a beautiful thing.
Ciara Clark is a certified yoga instructor and holistic health coach based in Boston, MA.
She specializes in combining the healing wisdoms from both yoga and plant-based nutrition to set women on the path towards optimal health. As a Scientist by training, her specialized academic and industry knowledge has given her a unique westernized and holistic perspective that aims to create customized wellness approaches empowering clients to find strength in healing their own bodies.
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