Pregnant? What Every Expecting Mom Should Know: How to Take Care of Yourself During Pregnancy
You’re having a baby! Now what? Pregnancy can be scary, especially for first-time moms. You’re learning to navigate through all those hormones (You’re crying again, aren’t you? It’s ok. It’s perfectly normal. You don’t have to have a reason.) and all those cravings (Let’s face it, pickles and ice cream was just a myth — you want all the food, all the time, even things you normally hate). Learn how to take care of yourself during pregnancy:
1. Stay Active
You may feel a little sluggish (read: nauseous) in the beginning, but it’s important to stay active. Keep exercising, even if it’s just taking a nice walk. Pregnancy can take a toll on the body and mind, so you need to keep both healthy and fit! Exercising regularly can help regulate your emotions and combat mood swings.
Low impact exercise can also help ease back pain, increase circulation to help with swollen feet or ankles, and improve your overall mood. Exercising also helps to strengthen your muscles, which you’ll need down the line when it comes time for the big push!
Swimming and walking are great exercises for pregnant mamas because they limit the stress on your body. You might even want to try aqua aerobics! Yoga is also a good suggestion if you’re trying to conceive because it increases fertility rates. Prenatal yoga relieves stress, opens up your hips, and helps with restlessness.
Use caution when it comes to more intense gym workouts though. Lifting heavy weights or exhausting your body with intense cardio may do more harm than good.
2. Limit Caffeine
Everyone loves a morning cup of coffee (or two), but too much caffeine during pregnancy has some serious health risks. Caffeine gets digested much slower when you’re having coffee for two and goes through the placenta into your baby’s bloodstream. Not only will you be wired and jittery, but so will the baby! The American College of Obstetricians Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends limiting your caffeine intake to 200mg or less if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. This is equal to about one to two cups of coffee. No need to put the Keurig away altogether; just drink in moderation!
Too much caffeine means a greater chance of miscarriage or having a newborn with a low birth weight. Try switching to a naturally decaffeinated herbal tea (but ask your doctor which ones are safe because certain herbs can cause premature labor as that time grows near).
3. Drink Lots of Water
It’s extremely important throughout your whole pregnancy to stay hydrated, so drink lots of water! First-time moms need more water than usual to form amniotic fluid (the liquid that surrounds your baby), produce more blood, and promote your baby’s blood circulation. Sometimes low fluid can lead to a miscarriage or cause complications during labor, so make sure to carry a water bottle with you wherever you go!
Experts recommend that you drink at least 8 to 12 cups of water a day. This equals about 64 to 96 ounces, which is a lot of disposable water bottles. Think about getting a good insulated cup, which is perfect for when you’re on-the-go and also at home. It’s a better way to keep track of how much water you are actually drinking.
Drinking plenty of water can also relieve pain associated with swollen joints and flush your system of built-up toxins.
4. Invest in a Pregnancy Pillow — And Take Naps!
Take naps as often as you’re able to and don’t feel guilty about it! Fatigue is very common, especially during the first trimester when your body is going through all sorts of hormonal changes that will tank your energy level at times.
Now is the perfect time to rest and relax before your little bundle of joy gets here, bringing in many sleepless nights. Your sleep schedule will be all out of whack, likely getting up every two to three hours to feed your new baby.
In addition to frequent napping, make sure to try to get a good amount of sleep at night too. As your pregnancy progresses, you might find your nighttime sleep is not as blissful. Your dreams might be interrupted with frequent pee breaks or restlessness. As your bump grows, it might be harder to get comfy. Sometimes hugging a pregnancy pillow helps you sleep better and alleviates back pain, leg cramps, pelvic stiffness, and general restlessness.
5. Schedule a Prenatal Massage
Before giving birth, schedule a professional prenatal massage.
A low-impact massage offers many benefits, including relieving lower back pain that can be a nuisance throughout your pregnancy. Massage removes inflammation that causes swelling, increases circulation, helps your muscles to relax, and decreases anxiety.
Prenatal massages are safe and very effective for most women. The side position is the most effective. Sometimes massage therapists have tables that provide a hole in which the uterus can fit, but these come with their own problems at times. When the stomach is hanging, it may cause uncomfortable stretching of the uterine ligaments.
Many massage therapists won’t accept women in the first trimester because the chance of miscarriage is higher. You may want to wait till you have a little more of a baby bump!
6. Be Prepared for Delivery: Make a Birth Plan!
Giving birth is something you want to (try) to be prepared for. Of course, things don’t always go as planned and every delivery (and mama) is different. Still, it helps to have a plan! You want to try to make this special moment as comfortable and stress-free as possible. This is why making a birth plan is a smart idea.
Think about what your ideal situation would be. Would you like a traditional birth in a hospital? Most women like the security of delivering in a hospital, but in-home births have been on the rise in recent years.
What about pain? Many women swear by an epidural, but others find it harder to push and prefer to just have their baby “naturally.” Before taking any advice from friends and family, do your own research about your options. What worked for your sister or your best friend might not be the best option for you. Also, stick to your guns. Don’t let nurses or hospital staff sway you in a direction you’re not comfortable with. Whether or not you want a water birth or a delayed cord clamping are just a couple more decisions to think about.
Maternal wellness is very important, as you navigate through all the physical changes to your body, as well as the hormonal and emotional ups and downs. Sometimes you just need a little extra support on your pregnancy/birthing journey!
7. Start ‘Nesting’
Many new moms like to start preparing for the baby by getting the nursery ready. Now is the time to set up the crib and pick out a theme or paint colors. You should pack a bag for the hospital, so when the time comes, both you and baby have what you need.
Once the nursery is ready, you can start washing and organizing the baby’s clothes. Picking outfits for your baby can be lots of fun, but it also requires some strategic planning. Babies grow fast. It may seem like one day they are in newborn clothes and suddenly their little feet don’t fit in the outfit anymore. Since babies tend to have these rapid growth spurts, try to always have some outfits in the next size ready to go as well. Newborn clothes are outgrown in the blink of an eye, so buy very few outfits in this size.
You can stock up on diapers too. A new thing for baby showers is the diaper raffle — shower guests are asked to bring a package of diapers to be entered into a drawing to win a prize. This is an opportunity for mama to get (and try) many different kinds of diapers. This is a good thing because you need to find what works best for your baby. Some cause rashes to a baby’s sensitive skin and others don’t seem to hold the nighttime leaks like they should (especially as your baby grows older and starts sleeping through the night). You should also encourage your guests to bring different size diapers too. That way you won’t have to buy any for a long time.
You can also prepare by taking childbirth classes like lamaze and hypnobirthing.
Pregnancy 411: Things You Need to Know
Not everything about your pregnancy has to be a surprise. Read on to learn what you need to know as a mom-to-be:
What may start out as one little red vein can quickly grow into a streak of red, blue, and purple, creating a roadmap of sorts on your legs.
While this can be an alarming sight, spider veins are common during pregnancy. They are caused by an increase in estrogen in your system and usually disappear after delivery. Another cause of these unsightly “spiders” is the increase in volume of blood you’re carrying. This creates significant pressure on your blood vessels, causing even small veins to swell. Your expanding uterus adds extra pressure to your veins as well.
If spider veins stick around, a dermatologist can get rid of them using saline injections or laser zapping.
To combat spider veins during pregnancy, try filling up on fiber, get plenty of Vitamin C, exercise, and try to avoid being on your feet for long periods of time. You can also camouflage them with makeup if they’re really bothering you.
An itchy belly is common due to a combination of dry skin (thanks crazy hormones!) and the skin stretching as the baby grows. But like bug bites — try not to scratch! Scratching can lead to stretch marks.
Instead, moisturize several times throughout the day, especially after showering. And don’t worry, an itchy episode should pass after a few days. Some women may also experience itchy feet.
Bleeding Gums and Nosebleeds
No one likes to see the “pink toothbrush” from sensitive or bleeding gums. During the first trimester, hormonal changes can trigger increased blood flow to your mouth and nasal passages, causing bleeding gums or nosebleeds.
It’s important to keep up with good dental hygiene during pregnancy, so keep brushing and flossing.
Pregnant women often have vivid dreams, and some may even be disturbing. While people often remember their dreams, pregnancy dreams often feel so real that it can be hard to distinguish the dream world from real life.
Women may also have more dreams related to motherhood or childbirth, as anxieties may ramp up as the day to deliver inches closer. You may dream about holding your baby, giving birth, or dreams about the baby’s sex. You may even have some wild dreams where your baby is talking to you. This is all normal — you’re not going crazy!
Changes in Sex Drive
Your sex drive may ramp up during certain times in your pregnancy, likely during the second trimester when morning sickness starts to fade away for most women. Your significant other should be on call because you may want it all the time! If you’re not having sex, you may be thinking about it!
But even though it can ramp up, your drive can also tank. You might find your sexual highs and lows are like a wild roller coaster ride. Follow your feelings, and take advantage of this time to indulge in extra sex because you’ll have to wait a little while once the baby is born.
The myth that having sex will hurt the baby is unfounded, so unless you’re experiencing a problem (like bleeding), go ahead and hit the sheets!
Sometimes the milk arrives before the baby. Due to increasing levels of the hormone prolactin in the blood, a mama-to-be may start to see milk as early as the second trimester.
It’s not dangerous and definitely doesn’t mean something is wrong. In fact, it should be reassuring to know that you’ll have plenty of milk once your newborn arrives. If you are experiencing any issues with lactation or latching once your baby arrives, seek help right away.
Extra progesterone in the body can lead the intestinal tract to slow down. Try to eat plenty of fiber-rich foods, like fruits and vegetables, to prevent this problem. If you do get constipated, ask your doctor to recommend a pregnancy-safe stool softener.
Yes, your breasts will be very tender and hurt, especially in the very beginning of your pregnancy. It may be uncomfortable to sleep in certain positions or even bump them. Wearing a good supportive bra can help. You might even find you are more comfortable wearing a sleep bra at night. As time progresses, you are going to need a larger cup size. Nursing bras are also great because they come in handy after the baby arrives if you plan to breastfeed.
Not every woman craves the mythical pickles and ice cream, but 50 to 90 percent of pregnant women have food cravings. Sometimes you might even be craving an item you don’t normally like! Of course, the opposite may occur — you may have an aversion to a food you used to find delicious!
There are different theories about what causes pregnancy cravings. Women often crave sweets like chocolate or ice cream, fruit, carbs like pizza or fries, dairy like cheese or sour cream, or a very particular food or fast food item that you just need…like NOW! What are you craving?
Do you feel a little sick to your stomach when you wake up in the morning? A majority of pregnant women experience nausea, either when they first wake up or periodically throughout the day. Try keeping some saltines at your bedside table to nibble on when you first wake up (or in your purse as well, if a wave strikes you while you’re out and about). Morning sickness usually starts to taper off after the first trimester.
Frequent Bathroom Visits
You may feel the need to pee — a lot! As your baby starts to move and grow, you will feel even more pressure on your bladder. You may even notice a few drops of urine when you laugh or sneeze. It’s best not to hold it in — try to get to the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge. Frequent urination is nothing to worry about, and just part of the pregnancy experience.
Weight gain during pregnancy is normal and healthy, and is a result of your baby growing, increased blood volume, placenta, amniotic fluid, and enlarged breasts. The amount of weight a woman should gain during pregnancy depends on her body mass index (BMI). Generally, women should gain between 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. If you’re slightly underweight, you might need to gain a little more and if you’re overweight, you can get away with gaining less. A healthy diet and regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy pregnancy weight.
What Should You Avoid During Pregnancy?
- Eating raw (or undercooked) meat and eggs
- Eating certain seafood
- Drinking unpasteurized milk
- Eating processed deli meats
- Drinking too much coffee/caffeine
Now you know how to take care of yourself during pregnancy. Make sure you continue to take care of yourself after your baby arrives. If you find yourself struggling with postpartum depression, breastfeeding difficulties, or other issues affecting your mental health, reach out to the MaternalWell for help. A happy and healthy mommy means a happy and healthy baby!