My third and youngest son is now 2 and a half and 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 pregnancy!
Or walking down the street, I spot a beautiful round tummy attached to a woman’s front and it reminds me of that feeling: The feeling that 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 and huge swollen ankles and the memories flood back: memories of night toilet trips, very big clothes and pondering how I 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. 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.
So with that in mind here are my Top 10 tips for a Healthy Pregnancy.
Some of the basic truths to embrace during pregnancy include:
Eat smaller meals more often. It will help with digestion and won’t leave you uncomfortable as your uterus pushes up on the stomach.
Make sure you are on a good multivitamin. You should have started supplementing with folic acid before conception as it contains B9 and has been proven to reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida by up to70%.
Try to increase your fruit and veg intake.
Try to avoid transfats and saturated fats. Good fats are cooked eggs, flaxseeds, nuts and oily fish.
Drink lots of water and include fibre where possible.
Avoid liver, meat pate, unpasteurised soft or blue cheeses, raw eggs and raw meat.
Most of us know that staying fit and healthy will help to promote a healthy pregnancy, healthy baby and potentially prevent complications during labour and birth. Here are some things to keep in mind:
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. 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. Avoid horse-riding, water-skiing and scuba diving during pregnancy for obvious reasons.
There are many sports that are perfectly safe and good for you during your pregnancy:
Cycling is an excellent aerobic activity, it can give you a great cardiovascular workout but you can still manage your pace and resistance (particularly on a stationary bike which reduces risks associated with riding on roads)
Swimming is another excellent option. Sign up for an aqua aerobics class near you or just swim lengths which will give you cardiovascular training without any weight bearing.
General strength and toning is also good during pregnancy especially for your upper body.
Most women underestimate how holding, carrying and feeding a baby can put a lot of extra strain on your neck and back. Pregnancy is a great time to pull out those light dumbells and get your biceps looking fine!
Pilates is a great option. During my last few years working as a physiotherapist, I trained as a Pilates instructor and was running a number of classes a week through my first 2 pregnancies. 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 so I am a great advocator of Pilates. A regular once or twice-weekly class will afford you many benefits.
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.
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 of you working as close to the birth of your babies as possible, to remove all stress would be impossible but try to limit your stress as much as possible.
Your body needs to recover and rest and replenish its energy to cope with the demands of your baby’s growth. Sleep is essential for you and your baby!
If you are struggling to sleep during your pregnancy try these tips:
Try a glass of warm milk or chamomile tea before bed.
If you are used to working on a laptop late into the night, try to change your routine. Rather work at another time of the day and then read a book later or do something that will relax you.
Find comfortable sleep positions so that even if you can’t sleep, your body can rest as much as possible. The best position is lying on your left side with a pillow between your knees.
Heartburn can also interrupt or delay valuable sleep. Gaviscon is your friend. It comes in effervescent tablets or syrup. You might think the effervescent tablets are more practical and ladylike but when my heartburn got bad, I literally used to carry the bottle around with me in my bag and take a swig whenever I needed it. It’s a thick viscous liquid that lines the top of your stomach contents so you don’t have so much reflux of the gastric juices. Desperate times call for desperate measures!
Make Good Choices
Preparing for birth particularly in our country means there are a number of questions that need to answered:
Where will I give birth to my baby? Government hospital, private clinic or hospital, home birth or Active Birth Unit
Who will be my primary practitioner? Obstetrician, GP or private midwife.
Who will support me through labour and birth? Hospital midwives, private midwife, doula, husband, birth partner etc
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 is a choice in itself and has 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 you to glean valuable tips or the latest in services and products they have accessed so you can set yourself up for success.
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. However, 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.
Sign up for an Antenatal Course
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 antenatal solution with video lectures, online discussion forums and mentorship through the 6 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. For more info, visit www.justengage.co.za or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the Just Engage Facebook page.
One lucky Becoming you reader can win a spot at the next Just Engage Online Antenatal course for themselves and their partner (or you can enter for your sister, friend, daughter etc). The next course starts on 1 Oct 2012.
To enter please do the following:
1) Leave a comment on this post stating when you are expecting your bundle of joy!
2) Like Just Engage on Facebook!
3) Like Becoming you on Facebook too…
4) Tweet or share this competition on Facebook and leave an additional comment on this blog post for an extra entry!
This competition is open to all South Africa residents. Entries close on Wed 19 Sep and the winner will be announced on Thurs 20 Sep.
About the Author: Sharon (McGee) Kloppers grew up in Durban but has lived in France and Zululand at various times of her life. She studied Physiotherapy at UCT and is also a trained Pilates Instructor. After her first son was born, she was involved in running Antenatal Courses in Cape Town and is now the Founder of Just Engage, SA’s first Online Antenatal Course. She lives in Cape Town with her husband and three sons aged 6, 4 and 2.
Images: 1) il-young ko 2 & 3) Sharon Kloppers