Top Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy
Hi my name is Sharon and my greastest claim to fame is that I am the mother of 3 busy boys; aged 6,5 and 2. I have a background in physical therapy and now run online prenatal classes.
My pregnancies are a distant memory…until a friend tells me they have just found out they are pregnant and their pale, drawn face transports me to mornings of metallic tastes, naartjies left all around the house, sleeping wherever and whenever and wondering how anyone can say they enjoy this!
Or walking down the street, I spot a beautiful round tummy attached to a woman's front and it reminds me of THAT feeling: like you are the chosen lady, the one singled out from all others to carry this child. I remember feeling so privileged, so needed, so important, so purposeful.
Then there is the mother of many, grasping her back as her oversized bump pulls her forward. She has a kid on each arm, ankles that could demo elephantitis and the memories flood back: memories of night toilet trips, very big clothes and pondering how such exhaustion will manage through labour and birth!
Pregnancy is an intense time for any woman; a season of many highs and many lows, a season that changes our lives forever!
Someone once jokingly told me pregnancy is divided into 3 trimesters: dreary, cheary and weary.
It is actually a very apt description of what most women experience:
In our modern world and for the modern woman, pregnancy doesn't slip into our lives conveniently and subtly. It can ruin our worlds - unless we make adjustments and intentionally plan for a healthy pregnancy and a fantastic future with our children.
These are my TOP 10 TIPS FOR A HEALTHY PREGNANCY:
NUTRITION: Many great books have been written on the subject of Nutrition in Pregnancy so there is a lot of valuable knowledge out there but some of the basic truths to embrace would be:
EXERCISE: Most of us know that staying fit and healthy will help to promote a healthy pregnancy, healthy baby and potentially prevent complications at labour and birth. If you are used to keeping very fit with lots of intense workouts, you will need to reduce this level to a mild to moderate intensity. Never exercise into discomfort or pain while you are pregnant. A 20 minute session 3 times a week is probably a good amount to aim at. Remember to stay well hydrated throughout your exercise sessions and warm up and cool down slowly and well before and after each session. Sports to avoid during pregnancy would be horse-riding, water-skiing and scuba diving for obvious reasons. There are many sports, however, that are perfectly safe and good for you during your pregnancy:
During my last few years working as a physical therapist, I trained as a Pilates instructor and was running a number of classes a week through my first 2 pregnancies and I am convinced it helped me a great deal coping with the process and pain of labour. I stopped running classes after my 2nd child purely out of busyness so for my 3rd pregnancy, I was probably at my weakest and most unfit and my 3rd labour was the longest and most difficult. Hence, I am a great advocator of Pilates. A regular once or twice-weekly class will afford you many benefits:
Imagine your spouse or partner, while doing some heavy weightlifting at gym, tore a muscle in his leg. He would not only rest long enough for the muscle tissue to heal but he would also probably see a physical therapist or biokineticist and rehab that muscle back to full strength and function. For some reason, with a woman’s pelvic floor, we just don’t have the same approach. Your pelvic floor holds a very important function throughout your life, not just for delivering your babies. A woman needs to exercise and train this sling of muscles effectively to prevent problems like incontinence or prolapse later on in life.
EMOTIONAL ADJUSTMENT: This takes time and intentionality and yet, by definition, while you're pregnant you're not actually sure what to expect so it becomes difficult to prepare. The clinical psychologist who lectures the session 'Becoming a Parent' on our Just Engage Course, CJ L'Hoste, actually gives the couples a list of questions to answer together. This helps them to communicate about their different expectations for after the birth and allows them to discuss the different roles they will fulfill. One of the biggest adjustments is for a mom who is used to very productive days with full to-do lists. She will need to adjust to long days of very little being achieved outside of the repetitive tasks of feeding, changing and holding her baby. Only getting to shower at 10 or 11 a.m might become her new 'routine' and she will need to find her self-esteem in how she is devoting herself to her newborn as opposed to how many deals she signed or how much money she earned.
REST: Again, for high-achiever women, I cannot overstate the importance of slowing down now that you are expecting a baby. There is a little person developing his/ her vital organs inside of you and drawing everything it needs from your body. Do not be selfish - this is the first of many moments to stop thinking of what you’d like to do and think about what you need to do for the baby. One of the worst things you could pump into their bloodstream is stress hormones. Obviously, in our modern world with many women working up as close to the birth of their babies as possible, to remove all stress would be impossible but try to limit your stress as much as possible:
MAKE GOOD CHOICES: Preparing for birth means there are a number of questions that need to answered:
Your choices around these questions will definitely play a role in determining the outcome of your labour and birth and early parenting experiences. Remember that apathy and procrastination are a choice in themselves and have consequences.
TIME WITH FAMILIES AND TIME WITH NEW MOMS: I think this is a value under-rated in our Westernised culture. As a first-time pregnant lady, most of your social circles are probably similar aged people with few or no small children. Work functions rarely include kids and family get-togethers might well not have babies or young children involved. It can be really helpful to build a good honest relationship with a family near you where you can spend extended time with them as a family. Watching how they parent their kids, how they cope with sleep deprivation, how they structure their time and what they discuss in conversation can all add to your processing the values and ideals you hold for your developing family that your newborn will soon enter. Meeting up with new moms can help to glean valuable tips or the latest in services and products they have accessed so you can set yourself up for success.
READ: Someone once told me, "Readers are leaders and leaders are readers". Relevant information about labour and birth has been shown to reduce fear in women as they anticipate what is about to happen to them to bring their child into the world. Birth aside, knowledge is power and there are so many valuable sources of information accessible to us to prepare us for life with a baby. The key is to read wisely so you are learning what is true and what is helpful. We need to be able to trust what we are reading otherwise we can't apply it to our lives.
WRITE A BIRTHPLAN BUT BE FLEXIBLE: Putting in writing how you would ideally like your labour and birth to play out is a very helpful exercise. It can help you communicate clearly with your health care professionals and make important decisions which you do have control over. Nevertheless, birth is an unpredictable process and a woman who gets her heart set on the event playing out in a particular way might well be setting herself up for disappointment which isn't necessary. After a healthy mom and baby, the mom having a positive birth experience should be a high priority so write your birth plan with that in mind.
PREP THE DAD: There is really no excuse for fathers-to-be to feel under-prepared and intimidated by the first few weeks with a newborn and the long road of parenting ahead. In our parents' generation, fathers were excluded from most preparatory forums and were often even excluded from the birth. Nowadays, there are websites and businesses run exclusively to give dads the support, education and advice they need to confidently step up to the plate.
Fathering children is potentially the most needed occupation in the world today. Give your man the space and the opportunity to develop himself ahead of the birth in a way that is comfortable and appropriate for him. Often, a man discovering his ability to father can enhance and deepen his marriage which children will benefit from and be grateful for too.
SIGN UP FOR A BIRTHING CLASS: There is a definite move away from doing these valuable courses. Both men and women, with busy schedules and travel itineraries, can't commit to traditional courses and rely largely on books or wikipedia to prepare them for this new season in their lives. To combat this, I launched Just Engage - a completely online prenatal solution with video lectures, online discussion forums and mentorship through the modules by myself and a growing team. All the content can be accessed online and you can enjoy more than 10 different lecturers on topics ranging from labour and birth to vaccinations, skin-to-skin and CPR over a 6 week period.
For more info, visit www.justengage.co.zaor e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org