In many ways, pregnancy gets easier the more you’ve done it. You learn what works for you, you learn to relax, and perhaps most of all, you learn that it’s just a season and a relatively short one at that.
An expert I’m not, but my last pregnancies have been better than my first ones and I know better than I used to how to make it through with a smile on my face. Because of that, I want to share what I’ve learned with those who are earlier on in your motherhood journey.
Of course, there’s no way to make pregnancy perfectly comfortable or easy. Because making a human being, it’s hard work, and while I believe our bodies were brilliantly created to do exactly that, it’s never a walk in the park.
Pregnancy frequently challenges us, pushes us to our limits, and requires sacrifices that every mother knows are worth it the moment you hold that sweet babe in your arms for the very first time.
But, it doesn’t have to be a miserable, nightmarish time that you spend counting the weeks and days until it’s over.
And so as I sit here 32 weeks pregnant with my fifth child, laptop balanced slightly precariously in front of my wiggly, squirming bump, and bladder on the verge of making me give up this carefully-acquired position on the couch… here are 15 tips for any mom, to help you have the best and most enjoyable pregnancy possible.
1. Learn to read your body’s signs.
Hands down, one of the most valuable things I’ve learned over the years is to understand what it looks and feels like to be low or deficient in certain things.
Problems like being low in iron, in calcium, in healthy fats, or being dehydrated account for more pregnancy discomforts than you might imagine. Learning to recognize them, and then take the proper action to remedy them, can save so much grief and help prevent morning sickness, fatigue, leg cramps, headaches, varicose veins and much more.
This pregnancy my key supplements are: fermented cod liver oil, herbal mineral tincture, Floradix liquid iron, calcium capsules, and magnesium lotion, plus I throw in seaweeds and dried greens as much as possible. Some have been added in (like iron and magnesium) based on sensing what my body needs and I’ve felt so much better for it.
2. Be as active and normal as possible.
Don’t pay too much attention to people who tell you to rest, sit down, stop doing so much, don’t carry that. I know, they mean so well, but you’re pregnant, not an invalid.
Let your own feelings of well-being and common sense tell you what you can and can’t do. Don’t be stupid. Don’t put yourself in precarious positions, and by all means, rest when you’re tired. But do try to just live your normal, active life as usual.
I still exercise, travel, lift things (boxes, furniture within reason, my kids), fix things, garden, work, and much more while pregnant. Sure, I have greater physical limitations and I have to stay attuned to my body and what it needs, but for the most part, I continue on with life as normal and so should you.
3. Don’t stress yourself out with checklists and daily requirements.
During my first pregnancy, I read the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting (I don’t recommend it now). It encouraged very strict eating guidelines, and so I made myself a checklist to put on my fridge to help me ensure I met all of the stringent requirements each day (4 orange fruits/veggies, 2 dark green leafies, etc.).
I also highly respect the work of the Weston A. Price foundation and read their guidelines for pregnant women. And then proceeded to miserably fail at following them, because it is so. much. stinkin. food.
All either one did was cause me ooodles of guilt and stress and worry. And did I mention the guilt? Seriously, do away with checklists and daily requirements. Instead…
4. Take a common sense approach.
Eat as best you can. When you feel nauseated and exhausted in the beginning, just try to focus on getting in real, nutritious foods when and where you can, remembering that every little bit counts.
Whole-food based supplements, nutritious herbal teas or smoothies are practical ways to boost nutrients. Eat that salad (or meat, or whatever it is that turns you off) when your body tells you you can, but don’t force it. Sometimes it’s OK to satisfy your cravings (if they’re not junk), just to eat and keep your strength up. Something (calories, nutrients, etc.) is better than nothing.
5. Do what you can to feel beautiful.
I keep a relatively small maternity wardrobe, but I’ve learned that having a few pieces or outfits I really love is worth it. Feeling beautiful and put together goes a long way to making me feel good about myself during a season when its easy to feel frumpy or unattractive.
Look for inspiration in places like Pinterest for ideas on how to put together cute looks. Wear jewelry or scarves. Put on makeup. Get a haircut. Get or give yourself a pedicure.
If your budget is really low, try kid’s swap meets, Craigslist or consignment stores to find good, used pieces at low prices. Remember that it doesn’t necessarily have to be maternity- today I’m wearing a non-maternity maxi skirt with a stretchy waistband, and an unbuttoned denim shirt from H&M over a maternity t-shirt.
6. Do take advantage of the internet.
In my first couple pregnancies, I was more on my own with some books and my midwife (which isn’t bad, of course). But these days, we are so blessed that we can quickly look up a symptom or try to find a solution, any time we need to.
It helps to take away the powerlessness of feeling yucky or being achy or in pain. More often than not, I’ve found ideas that have helped me, whether it’s with yeast infections, varicose veins, morning sickness, heartburn, lightheadedness, you name it.
7. Find movement and exercise that feels good to you.
Whether you love running, aerobics, hiking, weights, or yoga, don’t stop. Be willing to adapt as needed (for example, I’ve continued to do regular yoga videos, just adapting for the poses that don’t work for me as I get bigger), but don’t stop being active in ways that feel good to you.
I’ve actually found regular exercise and staying active to be essential to a more comfortable pregnancy.
But the rule of thumb? Listen to your body. If it hurts, don’t do it. If it feels fine, it’s probably OK.
8. Don’t stress out so much about sleeping on your left side…
Or eating raw cheese or sushi. Or having the odd glass of wine.
My first pregnancy I made myself a bit miserable trying to obey all of the rules. I’ve since learned that common sense and moderation go a long way.
Not to mention the fact that the things you’re not “supposed” to do differ depending on who you talk to… Japanese women thought I was crazy for avoiding sushi when we used to live there. Many European women continue to drink moderately throughout their entire pregnancy (and it’s hard to find cheese that isn’t raw in places like France). Women all over the world do physical work and manual labor up until the day they deliver a healthy baby. And most doctors and midwives will now tell you that the most important thing when it comes to sleep is that you’re comfortable.
9. Try to embrace the good and let the bad roll off of you.
I know, it’s HARD on the days when you just feel miserable. It’s easy to want to complain and whine. It’s even easy to want to make other people feel sorry for you. Try to resist.
Do whatever you can to feel better physically, and then try to distract yourself, give yourself perspective (you’re not the only person with problems), or focus on someone else instead of yourself. You’ll feel better by not spending your pregnancy ensconced in negativity.
10. Educate yourself (but with limits).
You do not need to read every single book or website, and if what you’re reading freaks or stresses you out, then put it down.
But do try to learn, and be an active player in your own health care. Know your options. Understand how your body works. Be aware of natural remedies and how nutrition can help you. Actively prepare yourself for labor. Ask your midwife or doctor good questions.
Learning more in a balanced and relaxed way will empower you… but learning more in a stress-filled, overwhelm-inducing, worst-case-scenario way will only bring anxiety and burdens you don’t need.
11. Go easy on yourself.
You’re making a brand new human being. It’s natural to be tired, to move slower, to feel less motivated than usual, to have hormones and emotions that fluctuate, to not feel up to big projects like usual.
Your body is working full time to create something spectacular. Don’t be down on yourself when it takes a little more from you than you wish it did.
12. Have great nutrition, but keep it simple.
Focusing on these basic guidelines will help you reach for better choices, but without feeling legalistic about it:
- Eat whole foods, and avoid processed, refined and convenience foods.
- Protein – lots of it, and try to include some with every meal or snack.
- Plenty of fresh, whole fruits and veggies, plus fiber in other forms like beans and legumes, whole grains, etc.
- Good fats. Fats are so maligned, but they’re absolutely crucial. Fats from fish especially, but also coconut oil, real butter, extra virgin olive oil, egg yolks, avocados… these are all superfoods for you and your baby.
- Plain old water. Just have lots of it. If you don’t like water, add lemon, lime or orange, cucumbers, or make it into cold or hot herbal tea.
For more on great nutrition while pregnant, read this post.
13. Recognize that it’s not all about you.
I hesitated to keep this point in here because it will probably draw angry responses, but I think it needs to be said anyways. Pregnant women can be notoriously self-focused and spend a lot of time navel gazing. If that sounds a bit harsh and blunt, I’m sorry, but I think it’s true.
Remember… I’m not saying pregnancy isn’t hard. I’m not saying you shouldn’t accept or ask for help (see the next point) or take a break when you need it. I’m a complete advocate for making sure that you and baby are well taken care of and that you get what you need. And when you need support or encouragement or even to have a good cry, you shouldn’t fake it. In other words, it’s OK to be real and to need things.
What I am saying is, don’t allow the challenges of pregnancy to turn you so inward that you become selfish and stop caring about the needs of others. Your husband – he still has needs. Your kids – so do they. Your friends- they’re dealing with their own challenges. The world at large- never a moment when there aren’t people suffering or facing oppression we can’t even fathom.
Life goes on all around you, so don’t let pregnancy make you think it should revolve around you.
14. Ask for help when you need it.
See? I’m not completely heartless. ;)
But seriously, I’m terrible at this. It’s taken me five pregnancies and I still tend to try to push through on my own, keep going when I’m exhausted, make food when I’m really ill, pick up or move things by myself.
This might sound a bit contradictory to the whole “try to just do life as normal” (see #2), but it’s not. There are times when you know you’ve hit a wall. Pay attention and stop. Tell your husband, your kids, a friend, your mom, whoever, that you’re struggling and could use a hand. It doesn’t make you weak, it makes you smart, and other people are usually more than happy to help you out.
15. Don’t underestimate the power of a 10 minute rest and a glass of water. (And just maybe, a piece of dark chocolate)
Rest and water can make a big difference when you’re feeling off. I’ve found that when I feel that way, just sitting down and drinking a full glass of water and putting my feet up for 10 minutes will so often turn how I’m feeling around and give me the energy I need to keep going.
The chocolate is just because you deserve it (and you can tell yourself it contains magnesium if it helps you justify it).