The last thing any pregnant woman needs is more unsolicited advice about how to gestate! That said, as a second-time pregnant mom and an integrative physician I can offer the following support for pregnancy and early motherhood in the modern era.
Practice self care. You are taking care of your family when you take care of yourself. This may be most literal during pregnancy, but it remains true throughout motherhood. When we consistently attend to our own needs (whether that means a two-minute shower or a 90-minute yoga class) we are then able to return to our children more present, patient, compassionate and energetic.
Sleep well. Just when our bodies need sleep the most- during pregnancy and early motherhood- is when restful sleep becomes most elusive. During pregnancy it is common to get up frequently to pee. Try to attend to this task without turning on bright lights, without checking the time or your email or your online mommy forum! You will be much more likely to drift back to sleep if you don’t fully wake up all senses. Tossing and turning is also common as our bellies grow and ligaments loosen. A body pillow can do wonders to help position you comfortably. Don’t forget the basics of your sleep environment- is the temperature cool enough, would you be more comfortable with a sound machine or humidifier? As baby will teach you soon enough, we all do well with a wind-down ritual to let the day go and prepare for sleep. This may be a book or music or meditation practice.
Eat well. There is a time to indulge in cravings and to listen to what the body wants. But we can balance this with a mindfulness that when we eat a clean, whole foods diet, we feel better. We are less likely to suffer the common symptoms of pregnancy such as bloat, constipation and swelling.
Stay active. Walking, stretching and strengthening help reduce the physical ailments of pregnancy such as back pain, swelling and fatigue. There is also evidence that exercising throughout pregnancy can prevent complications such as gestational hypertension and excessive weight gain. It may also help ease labor and recovery.
Avoid toxins. We all know to avoid alcohol and smoke and to limit caffeine during pregnancy. Mercury and heavy metals can pass the placenta as well. In addition, our immune systems are suppressed during pregnancy (so that we don’t attack the fetal “foreign DNA”). Considering all of this it is best to avoid eating high mercury fish and foods that have the potential carry bacteria such as sushi, deli meats, unpasteurized cheese and honey. It is also better to buy organic when possible to avoid pesticide exposure. There are many toxins- such air and water pollution and electromagnetic radiation- that we have very little control over. It is always best to do what is reasonable to keep our lifestyles clean and to let everything else go.
Find your mom tribe. In this era, pregnancy and motherhood can feel isolating. Finding support among other women going through similar challenges can be immensely reassuring and helpful. Many women find this in a prenatal yoga or a birthing class, others find it at a parent-and-me class and others find it in an online community.
Do you. Take this and everyone else’s advice with a grain of salt. Keep what resonates and let go what doesn’t.