The joys of pregnancy are, for some, endless and for others entirely lacking.
Growing a new life, a little human complete with fingers, toes and a sweet little nose, is no mean feat. Our bodies go through monumental changes to make way for the growing baby. Who we are can begin to stretch and expand as well. Some of us are ready for this coming expansion of self and some of us are terrified- and others swing between both! We are going to explore ways to take very good care of yourself at this monumental time in your life, the growing before baby comes.
In early pregnancy the first sign might be a need to urinate more often as your blood volume begins to increase. You might notice nausea as hormones supporting the pregnancy ramp up quickly and the same hormones might make your breasts feel very warm and a bit tender or sore. You might, like me, notice a firm ball type feeling giving resistance to your lower abdomen when you lie on your tummy. You may feel oh. so. tired and need to nap like you haven’t napped before. And the classic sign, your period usually stops.
Before we go on, the very best advice anyone can give you is this: if you are worried about your pregnancy, speak to your doctor. Your doctor is your partner in health. It is their job to work with you to make sure you are healthy and well. It can be hard sometimes to communicate our concerns because we don’t want to look or feel silly, but the only silly question is the one not asked. If you really have a hard time speaking to your doctor, it might be the time to find one you are comfortable going to when you are feeling concerned and need reassurance or further support. You are on the biggest learning curve of your life, and you need to have people you can talk to honestly if you are worried at all about your health or that of your baby.
The following are some general guidelines for keeping well and comfortable in pregnancy. Pregnancy can be an incredibly beautiful time, it can also be painful and gruelling. We see you, watching the other pregnant woman jump and skip over the low curb as she leaves pathology, while you struggle to get out of your chair and hobble into the cubicle for your turn…
General rules apply to those who breeze through enjoying that “glow” and those who aren’t sure how they will make it one more day, we’ve detailed some of these here:
Discomfort during pregnancy
While there is a strong romantic view of pregnancy in our culture it often isn’t the glowing, delightful, brimming with contentment time that it is often portrayed.
Morning sickness, or as it should be known, pregnancy sickness can cause nausea and vomiting around the clock and for some it can be bad enough to require admission to hospital to prevent dehydration. Some pregnancy sickness can be managed with a glass of water and frequent meals, ginger, chamomile, vitamin B6 and acupuncture. For those with a more severe affliction impacting your day to day function speak with your doctor to see if other treatments are available so you can keep doing the things you need to.
Stretching and expanding to accommodate our growing bub. Your body is very quickly changing to meet the needs of your baby as they grow, and this often feels like itchy and tight skin. Use a moisturiser or belly oil for comfort and know that stretch marks may still happen. Our genes and the number of pregnancies, or number of babies we carry in one pregnancy dictate most of whether we will get stretch marks and other lasting changes to our bodies that remain after baby has come into the world. Like other stretch marks you might have from a time of rapid growth they are a sign of a time your body met the challenges placed on it and triumphed. Your body is amazing, look at what it is helping you do!
Heartburn. Like this list, heartburn really kinda sucks. More common in later pregnancy when you have very little room for your internal organs, heartburn joins in to make it harder to sleep. Eating small, frequent meals can help but so can talking to your doctor. They might recommend a short acting antacid but long acting ones are available that are safe in pregnancy if it is getting to be too much.
Pubic symphysis pain is the pits. Pubic symphysis dysfunction is an incredibly painful excess of movement at the front of your pubic bone. Pelvic girdle pain can also describe pain at the back of your pelvis. The pain is caused by movement at joints that are designed to be able to expand during birth and it is thought to be caused by a hormone your body produces called relaxin. There is nothing that can be done to alleviate this one except for some activity modifications and a pelvic brace. The good news is that you can expect it to go away after baby is born. Do speak to your doctor and get a referral to a women’s health physiotherapist or occupational therapist and they will help you with a support for your hips and give you tips on how to move to reduce the pain.
Eat plenty of fresh healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, eat some protein every day- think meat, eggs, legumes and aim for two serves of fish a week- and enjoy dairy regularly. Avoid fried foods and foods/drinks that are high in sugar. Be mindful of portion size but eat a wide variety of healthy food to meet your bodies increased nutrient needs. The best move is to cut alcohol completely to protect your baby’s developing brain and cut back on those cups of tea and coffee or substitute with a decaf option.
A note about vitamins
Take your prenatal vitamins, if you are planning for pregnancy, start taking them when you start trying to conceive.
The main vitamins:
- Folate- important to support neural tube development (this becomes your baby’s brain and spinal cord)
- Iron- helps in the development of placenta and fetus
- Iodine- helps keep your thyroid healthy
- Vitamin D and Calcium supports your baby’s developing teeth and bones
- Vitamin B12- is important for healthy blood and neurological function (brain and nerves)
There are plenty of multi-vitamins available at chemists and grocery stores that have all of these in one. Ask your doctor or local pharmacist when you get your check up when trying to conceive or have found out you are pregnant which might be right for you.
During pregnancy your immune system is lower and you are more susceptible to food borne bacteria (listeria, salmonella, campylobacter, toxoplasma gongii*) that can make you unwell and harm your baby. There are some really simple things you can do to avoid exposure to these:
- Cook and reheat pre-cooked food very well because heat will destroy any bacteria
- Avoid unpasteurised milk and juice products
- Avoid undercooked meat, seafood and poultry
- Avoid soft cheeses, pate, pre-prepared salads, raw sprouts and cold-cured meats such as salami and prosciutto
- Avoid raw or partially cooked eggs and products made with raw eggs such as mayonnaise and mousse, and soft serve ice-cream.
*Toxoplasma gongii is found in cat faeces, so if at all possible avoid exposure with soiled cat trays or dirt (you have our permission to hand over the chore of cleaning the cat tray until well after baby is here!). Wear gloves if you must change litter and wash hands thoroughly afterwards, especially before handling food.
Sleep is so very important. It helps your baby grow well, it helps your body meet your growing baby’s needs and it can help prevent postnatal depression and anxiety². Sleep can be hard to come by throughout pregnancy with most women experiencing poor sleep, less sleep and feeling sleepy during the day. The most common causes of poor sleep are frequent need to urinate and difficulty getting comfortable for sleep³. Common advice to reduce needing to wee all night is to cut down on fluids in the evening, which will be hard if you have a really dry mouth sensation, and you will still need to go to the toilet frequently at night because your blood volume has increased and your kidneys are processing more fluids because of that. Getting comfortable for sleep can be very hard in later stages. From around 20 weeks you shouldn’t sleep on your back anymore because the weight of your growing uterus can put pressure on blood vessels that supply the baby. If you are a back sleeper this can be a challenging transition. Pillows are the answer, apologies to your bed mate but you are about to take up a lot more space! Prop your body with pillows, one cushion behind your hips to keep you from rolling flat on your back, you can place a low cushion underneath your belly for a little support if you need, and one between your legs to support your hips in side lying. You can purchase a purpose made maternity pillow or just use regular pillows to prop you in the most comfortable position possible. Rolling over and changing positions is more difficult with pillows, but hopefully having them will help you get a little more sleep… and when you can’t sleep, rest.
Move – exercise is really important to keep you strong and help you manage everyday stress and worries. If you have already been exercising you can usually continue this, be guided by how your body feels and your doctor. If you are new to exercise, stick with gentle walks and join a pregnancy specific exercise class if you can, you are usually able to attend one of these around 10-12 weeks.
No one can predict when will be the right time for you to finish up work. If you start to notice that it is hard for you to keep working, have an honest conversation with your doctor and your workplace. You want to take the best care of your body and mind so baby can keep developing in the womb as long as possible. Even the most driven women will for sure will want a little time to “nest” as well. We all know women who have planned to finish up when bub arrives and women who have planned to finished up a month out and baby came on their second last day of work. With my first I planned for a month and got two-weeks, and had to finish up work at 26 weeks with my second (it was twins) pregnancy.
If you do finish up work ahead of baby arriving and have no idea how to fill your time, here are some things you can do: prepare your space, prepare your mind, commune with your belly, batch cook meals for when baby arrives, gentle walks, binge watch Netflix, rest, catch up with friends, enjoy the peace and quiet.
A time to listen to your inner voice. In the latter half of pregnancy you can feel your baby(ies) moving and it is amazing! Something has to be, because in the later stages you are often exhausted and uncomfortable. But those movements tell you that everything is as it should be. If you think that those sweet movements have changed and you worried call the maternal care unit at your hospital or your doctor. Health professionals who care for pregnant women would rather you call and even come in to be seen if you are worried than have you worry at home. “Better to be worried and be seen and have it be nothing, than worry at home and it be something” is a phrase I heard again and again during my pregnancies and I am grateful, it encouraged me to reach out when I was feeling scared or worried and it meant that I felt that I was not alone at the time it mattered most. Don’t hesitate, ring them if you have any concerns, you will feel better for it.
A time to ask for help. You might find that you need to ask for help to tie your shoe laces and put on your pants- especially if you have pubic symphysis pain and you just have to take a deep breath and ask for help! You are growing a baby, the most incredible thing your body will ever do and no one is going to judge you when that bump gets in the way of everyday tasks. There are some aspects of intimate personal care that, if you want maintained, you might need to ask for help with. You can’t see your toes anymore and you aren’t as limber or flexible as you once were. So, the brutal reality is that you are going to need to ask someone to get in your very personal space and it will feel incredibly awkward and embarrassing. Just ask. Your loved ones love you so so so much and they will understand. They may decide they don’t have the skills for whatever you need, or want, and in that case, I suggest you ask them to spring for the cost of a salon appointment. If they are up to the task it will deepen the love and affection you have for each other and give you a chuckle and deep sense of appreciation that you have them in your life.
A special note on twin and more pregnancy
We see you. This is hard. No doubt you thought you were just going to have one baby, and now your view of the future is altered, it might be scary for you standing here, you might be excited and nervous like any expecting parent, all of your feelings are okay. Your body was designed to carry one baby and it is doing an incredible job growing more than one at once! You might grow beyond the maternity wear marketed to pregnant mummies, you might be worried about how far along in your pregnancy you will get before your babes come into the world. There are peer support groups and multiple births associations all over Australia such as Multiple Births Association for Western Australia and the Australian Multiple Births Association. Find one and you will find people who can relate to your journey and this is a very powerful and important support to have.
- de Seymour JV, Beck KL, Conlon CA. Nutrition in pregnancy. Obstetrics, Gynaecology & Reproductive Medicine. 2019;29(8):219-24.
- Zsamboky ML. Sleep and Pregnancy: Understanding the Importance. International Journal of Childbirth Education. 2017;32(1):22-4.
- Mindell JA, Cook RA, Nikolovski J. Sleep patterns and sleep disturbances across pregnancy. Sleep Medicine. 2015;16(4):483-8.