The way in which you approach your pregnancy has an enormous impact on your physical and mental health, and on your baby, says Henny de Beer, a clinical midwife specialist at the Origin Family-Centred Maternity Hospital. She offers some advice to help you focus your energy on your body, your mind and your soul.
1. Eat right
Most women know that they should be eating healthily “for two” – but that takes planning.
For a start, it’s not just three meals a day. Bearing in mind that your blood feeds your baby, it’s important to keep your blood sugar in balance, Henny says. The best way to do this is to eat three meals and three snacks throughout the day, including plenty of protein.
To make sure you’re eating the right meals six times a day, you’ll need a plan. Henny suggests you stock up on the following snack foods: eggs, fruit, nuts, extremely dry biltong, yoghurt and Pronutro. When it comes to meals, think about what will work for your lifestyle - planning a week’s worth of meals, cooking in bulk and freezing portions, ordering healthy meals from a weekly meal planning website or doing a health food exchange with a friend.
2. Stay hydrated
Henny recommends drinking at 1.5 litres of water a day. Drinking enough water prevents overeating, reduces the incidence of bladder infections, constipation, haemorrhoids and fluid retention.
Top tip: If you don’t like to drink water, make diluted iced tea or flavour water with lemon or mint leaves.
3. Stick to your supplements
Women should start taking folic acid three months before they plan to get pregnant and for the first trimester, as this form of Vitamin B9 helps prevent neural tube defects, which include serious birth defects of the spinal cord and brain. Henny says that you can take a pregnancy mulitivitamin in the first trimester, but many women find it contributes to morning sickness, in which case, start in the second trimester.
Supplements contribute to lower incidences of anaemia, which puts women at greater risk of bleeding, postnatal depression and poor milk supply.
4. Focus on your fitness
Fit, toned muscles and ligaments will help you in a natural birth, and will also contribute to a faster recovery from a caesarean, according to Henny. If you feel tired and ill in the first trimester, don’t put yourself under pressure to get fit, but have a plan for the second trimester. Henny says that swimming and walking are some of the best forms of exercise for pregnant women.
Top tip: A pedometer will help you to focus on walking as much as you can. And a walking or swimming buddy is helpful to make you accountable.”
5. Get aligned
Henny is a firm believer in pilates, chiropracty and yoga as a part of every woman’s pregnancy wellness routine. She says that this is because if your pelvis is tilted and the surrounding muscles are weak and unsupple, it can make a natural birth more difficult. “Pilates and yoga classes help to align your body and develop the right kind of strength for the birth that lies ahead of you.”
6. Get prepared
Find an antenatal class that’s right for you. If you want a natural birth with no interventions, be sure that the instructor is supportive of this approach. If, on the other hand, you are having an elective caesarean, don’t go to a class with an “all natural” instructor that might leave you feeling uncomfortable about your choices.
“Do your research,” says Henny. “Don’t just go for the closest or the cheapest class. Find an instructor and other moms you can relate to, that’s aimed at helping you to get what you want out of the birthing experience.”
7. Calm yourself
Having a baby is one of the most dramatic life changes a human being can go through, so little wonder that your mind is very busy right now. Rather than getting caught up in the turmoil of stuff to get done before the baby comes, find ways of calming down – yoga and meditation are great for this.
The same applies to your ability switch off and sleep. In the last trimester, you will probably be waking up four or five times a night to visit the loo. This will prepare you for the interrupted sleep that’s to come. You need to learn to go back to sleep easily. Henny says to work out what helps you to feel calm and sleepy – whether it’s a glass of hot milk, a hot water bottle on your belly or soothing music on the iPod – and put those into action when you need them.
8. Make your maternity leave matter
“I see so many women work up until the day of labour or the week before their caesarean is scheduled because they want to use as much of their maternity leave as possible to be with the new baby,” says Henny. “Unfortunately, this means that they are already exhausted when they become mothers.”
She says that if you possibly can, try to take off or work reduced hours from 36 or 37 weeks to enjoy some time for yourself before the baby comes. “It’s better to have three months of quality time than four months in survival mode.”
It’s better to have three months of quality time than four months in survival mode.
9. Focus your energy where it matters
Henny says that too often she sees mothers who are in a state about the nursery, putting pressure on themselves and their partners to create a beautiful, fashionable space for the baby to live in. “All the baby really needs is you!” she says.
Instead, she says, focus on the extreme practicalities of what you and your baby will need. This means having easy-to-use changing tables wherever you will be spending the most time in your house. Everything should be in reach, and you should have a bin and wash basket close by.
You will spend as much as eight to ten hours a day in the breastfeeding position at first, so make sure you have a comfortable feeding chair. Chairs in which your knees are naturally tilted upwards to support the baby are good. Henny recommends a camping chair that gives good support and has holes for your water bottle, tissues and other items.
10. Get your partner involved
“Everything I’ve mentioned is easier if it’s shared,” says Henny, who advises asking for your partner’s help in planning meals, creating the changing and feeding areas and helping you to get your much-needed relaxation and alignment time. “Pregnant women may feel that their partner is not involved in this miraculous process that’s happening to their bodies. All these things will cement the bond between you and your partner and prepare you for the time when they will be supporting you as you give birth.”
And if you are doing all of this as a single mum, find a friend or family member that you trust to get involved in your preparation.
After your baby is born, your priorities will shift radically, but for now, looking after yourself is the best thing you can do for your baby. Try to find a way to put an action plan in place that helps you to be the happiest, healthiest pregnant woman you can be. Make a conscious decision to slow down and be kind to yourself. This is your last chance to be all about you!