Pregnancy is a wonderful thing, but for most women, there are highs and lows. While finding out that you are expecting can be incredibly exciting, it’s natural to feel apprehensive and overwhelmed too. There is no universal, one-size-fits-all guide to preparing for pregnancy and parenthood, but hopefully, this article will prove helpful if you’re counting down the days until your new addition arrives.
Taking care of your physical health
There is no doubt that pregnancy can take its toll on your body. During the gestational period, your body will come under strain, and you might notice differences on a daily basis. Pregnancy causes major changes, and it’s beneficial to take steps to look after yourself. Many women find that they experience numerous symptoms during pregnancy. Not everyone will have the same experiences, but it’s useful to be aware of some common pregnancy-related conditions.
Morning sickness is common in pregnancy, particularly during the first trimester. Some women have severe symptoms, while others don’t experience nausea at all. Although the name ‘morning sickness‘ suggests that you only get symptoms in the mornings, it’s common to feel sick throughout the day. In most cases, no treatment is required for morning sickness, but natural remedies, such as ginger, can help. If you can’t keep fluids down for a prolonged period of time due to continual sickness, speak to your doctor. Severe cases of sickness, for example, hyperemesis gravidarum, may require hospital treatment.
The process of growing a baby can be tiring, and it’s very common for pregnant women to experience fatigue. Tiredness can develop at any point in the pregnancy, and some women find that they feel exhausted by the time they reach their due date. Sleeping during pregnancy can be more difficult if you can’t get comfortable, your muscles and joints are aching, or your back hurts. Investing in a pregnancy pillow and trying to get into a sleep routine can help. Aim to go to sleep and get up at a similar time each day. If you start flagging during the day, take a short nap.
Many women notice that their ankles and feet become swollen during pregnancy, and this is due to fluid retention. If your feet and ankles feel heavy, or you start to feel uncomfortable when you walk or wear socks, try and avoid wearing anything tight on your feet and keep moving. If you are concerned, the swelling occurs suddenly or are not feeling well, be sure to let your doctor know as this can be a sign of preeclampsia.
Back pain affects almost all pregnant women. In the early stages of pregnancy, many women find that they start to develop symptoms of backache. This is due to the natural softening of the ligaments in the body, which occurs to make space for the baby to grow. As your baby grows, you gain weight and your body adapts, you may be prone to lower back pain and aches in your pelvis. To ease pain, try and maintain good posture, invest in a supportive pillow and exercise on a regular basis. If you are susceptible to back pain, seek advice from your doctor before you try any new physical activities. Swimming is an excellent choice for pregnant women because it is low-impact and the water supports your body weight. You might also find that exercises like yoga and Pilates help, but it’s critical to take a class or follow a home workout that is suitable for pregnant women.
Health tips for pregnant women
It’s not always possible to sail through pregnancy without having to deal with some unpleasant and unexpected symptoms, but there are steps you can take to try and maintain good health. These include getting plenty of rest, staying active and eating well.
Rest is crucial when you’re pregnant. Pregnancy is an upheaval for the body, and you need to take time to recover and recharge your batteries. Try and get into the habit of taking time to relax in the evenings and going to bed at a time that enables you to get enough sleep. Turn your bedroom into a serene sanctuary. Block out light, avoid technology, use soft furnishings to promote comfort and coziness and choose soothing colors. Make sure the room isn’t too hot and avoid drinking during the evening so that you don’t end up getting up to go to the toilet every couple of hours during the night. Using a pregnancy pillow and investing in a comfortable, supportive new mattress might help to ease aches and pains.
Staying active isn’t always easy, especially when you get to a point where you can’t see your toes and even getting off the sofa is a challenge. You might not be able to jump fences or run for miles when you’re expecting, but keeping your body moving offers a wealth of benefits for physical and mental health. Some types of activities are not recommended for pregnant women, but there are lots of options out there for those who want to stay as active as possible. Walking, gentle jogging, swimming and pregnancy yoga are good examples. If you have any questions or queries about what you can and can’t do, it’s wise to speak to your doctor. It’s also an excellent idea to work with a personal trainer and look for classes that are specially designed for pregnant women.
Eating well can be tricky during pregnancy if you suffer from morning sickness, but having a healthy, balanced diet is beneficial for both mom and baby. Try and make sure you’re getting plenty of vitamins and minerals, use a checklist to make sure you know what you can and cannot eat, and get some ideas and inspiration from recipe books and online forums if you’re keen to expand your home cooking repertoire. Adjusting your diet can help to boost immunity, lift your mood, stabilize your weight and make sure your body has sufficient fuel. We often hear about ‘eating for two’ during pregnancy. Your body will need extra energy, and there’s nothing wrong with the odd indulgence, but you don’t need to double your calorie intake. Typically, health experts recommend consuming 200-400 extra calories per day during the second and third trimesters.
Preparing yourself mentally for pregnancy
Many of us go through life thinking that we’ll be parents one day, but nothing really prepares you for the moments that follow. That split-second when you look at the positive test result, the first time you see a scan image and hear a heartbeat and the magical moment you see, hear and hold your baby for the first time. For many women, pregnancy is a rollercoaster, and it impacts mental wellbeing, as well as physical health. It’s perfectly normal to feel ecstatic one day and anxious another and to be scared, excited, worried, nervous and elated at the same time. If you’re expecting, here are some tips to look after and nourish your mental health.
Lean on family and friends
Pregnancy can be difficult, and it’s important to understand the value of having people you can trust and rely on around you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family if you’re struggling, you’d love some company or advice, or you’re having a bad day. Spending time with loved ones is fun, and it can make you feel more relaxed and less anxious.
Try not to compare yourself to others
In the age of social media, it’s virtually impossible not to compare yourself to others, but this can contribute to unnecessary pressure. If you’re bombarded by images of perfect-looking women cradling their bumps and looking like they’re on cloud 9 permanently, you might start to feel abnormal, inadequate or imperfect. The truth is that everyone goes through peaks and troughs when they’re pregnant and there is no right or wrong way to look or feel.
Be careful about what you read
There is a vast amount of useful, credible information online, and it can be incredibly beneficial to read parenting guides and health articles about pregnancy. The trouble is that some sources are less reliable, and there are myriad horror stories floating around. Be careful about what you read and who you listen to. Focus on reliable sources and take advice from people you trust. Every pregnancy is unique, and some women have a very different experience to others.
Take some time out
When you’re pregnant, it’s critical to take time out and to look after yourself, especially if you are susceptible to mental health problems or you have a history of psychological disorders. Rest, spend time doing things you enjoy, relax, and take steps to minimize stress.
Ask for advice
If you have any questions or concerns, or you’re feeling low, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Pregnancy is a phenomenon, and it impacts people in different ways. There is no doubt that creating and nurturing new life can be difficult, but there are likely to be several highs along the way too. It’s impossible to predict how you’ll feel during pregnancy, as every woman is unique, but hopefully, this guide will help you prepare as best you can.
Shannon M. Clark, MD, MMS is a double board certified ObGyn and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist, and founder of Babies After 35. In her roles as a clinician, educator and researcher at UTMB-Galveston, she focuses on the care of people with maternal and/or fetal complications of pregnancy. Dr. Clark has taken a special interest in pregnancy after the age of 35, which according to age alone, is considered a high-risk pregnancy.
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