My pregnancies tend to go something like this:
I find out I’m pregnant and spend a week or two celebrating before I become absolutely bed-bound with sickness. Nauseau, headaches, body aches, errything. I wonder why I did this to myself and continue wondering until the first trimester is over.
Sometime around 13 weeks I miraculously begin to feel better. I get out of bed and like a spaceman returning home realize that my muscles have atrophied. I try to resume my normal routine but find I can’t do anything without causing painful back and leg cramps. I try to eat my normal foods and begin gaining enough weight to just look really fat. I try to spend time with my family but usually end up alone crying.
A couple weeks before I reach the third trimester I realize that I am, in fact, pregnant, and should probably adjust my life accordingly. I begin to eat better, stretch often, and hold off on physical work. My belly really pops and I dress in comfy pregnancy clothes instead of trying to fit into my too tight regular ones. Pregnancy becomes wonderful but I’m filled with anticipation for the baby to finally come.
I really wish I could remember the cycles I go through and begin earlier doing things to help myself stay healthy so I don’t go through so much pain, especially during the second tri. However, I don’t. I have a terrible pregnancy memory and only have a faint inkling that the last two times I was pregnant I had sensations similar to these.
Despite giving birth twice, the idea of labor still really intimidates me, so one of the biggest reasons I begin to get my act together is to help myself prepare for birth. I do know that labor is so much easier when you’re reasonably fit. I haven’t had any serious complications but the second time I gave birth I took a really long time to heal. This time, I’m not having any pain medication, so I’m hoping that I can prepare myself a bit more so I don’t have as much pain and trouble.
So what do I do?
First of all, I drink a lot of water. Whether you need it in the summer to keep from being dehydrated or in the winter to prevent your skin from drying out, being properly hydrated is a major but simple way to stay healthy. Every morning I guzzle down a glass of lemon water. The lemon makes the water less harsh on my empty belly and it helps to stay off cravings and bad eating for the rest of the day. Seriously. I don’t know how it works, but there is a huge difference between my eating habits based on whether or not I’ve been drinking lemon water.
Unless you buy organic lemons, just squeeze the juice in. Peels tend to make the water a bit funky tasting.
Set a goal to eat healthy and keep track of how you do. Some days I eat the most unhealthy things, mostly sugary things, but the next day is a new day and I start over with my goal to eat healthy. Don’t let one bad day turn into a bad week or month. Keeping track of your eating habits really helps. I use an app on my phone called My Fitness Pal. It isn’t specifically for pregnant women but it does give me a breakdown of the nutritional value of my food as well as my calorie intake. Your body doesn’t really need different things than it normally does while you’re pregnant. You should add 500 calories, so for most women around 2300 a day, and half of those calories should come from carbs, 30 percent from fat, and 20 percent protein. I’ve found that I eat way too many carbs. Veggies are essentially freebies, so be sure to always have lots of them in your fridge
One mistake I made with my second pregnancy was to think fruit is super healthy. Fruits are full of vitamins but they also have a lot of sugar. I drank a lot of “healthy,” no-sugar added smoothies, only to gain way too much weight. Veggies and meat are really the things that should make up most of your food during pregnancy.
You input what you eat and it gives you the calorie intake…
As well as where those calories are coming from…
And a nutritional breakdown.
I completely understand why so many women gain too much weight during pregnancy. We spend so much time dieting and exercising to look a certain way. Pregnancy feels like the first time in your life when you can eat what you want without feeling guilty and hearing the doctor encourage you to gain weight sounds like music to your ears. Unfortunately, this really isn’t true. Pregnancy is not a blessed time when you can eat what you want when you want. Luckily, there is a time when you can do it, and it is when your baby is exclusively breastfeeding. While pregnancy only requires 500 extra calories a day, breastfeeding can take 800 to over 1000 a day, and only increases the longer you feed your child. New recommendations for breastfeeding tell us to breastfeed EXCLUSIVELY for the first six months. Not giving your child regular food will obviously increase the amount of calories they’ll need from you.
But pregnancy isn’t just about eating well. While avoiding certain foods will certainly make you feel less groggy and gassy, and water will help you not overeat, exercise is the thing that will really help you when it’s time to push.
The muscles you want to focus on are pelvic muscles and abdominals. While doing crunches obviously isn’t good for your belly, it’s really important to keep those muscles strong. Not only will they help you give birth but strong stomach muscles will also help your belly regain it’s former shape and reduce the pouch mothers get.
I do a lot of exercises from Ballet Beautiful. The exercises are like more intense versions of yoga, which makes them good for working out your muscles as well as working out your mind and breathing.
(Mary Helen Bowers is the founder of Ballet Beautiful. She continued ballet exercises up till giving birth. Don’t you just hate her?)
+ I start with modified crunches. Sit on your bum with your legs in front of you, knees slightly bent. Hold your arms out in front of you like you’re holding a beach ball. Lean back and open your arms. Lean back as far as you can without your feet moving. You’ll feel your stomach muscles contract. Sit upright again and move your arms in front to clutch the pretend beach ball again. Repeat 20-30 times.
Leaning back straight
Leaning back with side twist
+ Now begin side crunches. Sitting in the same position with your arms in front, lean to the side, twisting your body so your elbow touches the ground. Or at least it could theoretically touch the ground. My belly is too big to actually do it. Return to an upright position. Repeat to the other side. Continue alternating sides 20-30 times.
+ Another good way to work your stomach muscles is to go leg stretches. This is similar to what you would also see ballerinas do. If you stand with your right arm resting on a chest or counter, lift your left leg as high into the air as you can without moving the rest of your body. Repeat lifting your left leg, then switch to your right. This exercise works on your legs, but also works your stomach and your pelvic muscles.
Obviously your leg will come nowhere that high.
+ People will talk and talk about doing kegels, which are a useful exercise to do. But working your pelvic floor isn’t just about clutching your muscles down there. The best exercise you can do are squats. Try to get as close as you can to your bum touching your calf muscles to make sure you’re doing a really deep squat. When you become really unweidly, this exercise can be done by sitting down onto a low chair (like a child sized chair or beanbag or ottoman) and then back up.
+ The final exercise I do for my labor muscles is bridging. Lying on the floor with your knees bent so your feet are touching the ground, push upward until only your feet, head, and shoulders are touching the ground. Your belly should be up in the air and your back curved like a bridge. Lie back down slowly, so you can feel one vertebrae touch the ground at a time. Repeat.
Most women have a lot of back problems during pregnancy and I’ve found that simply stretching helps immensely. This is something that cannot be rushed though. Rushed stretches are as useful as not stretching at all. My favorite for lower back pain is to sit with my legs crossed Indian style. I take a deep breath in and twist to the right as I exhale. I take another breath in and continue twisting in the same direction as I exhale. Once more, I take a deep breath and twist further to the right as I exhale. This way, you get a very deep twist, deeper than you would if you just twisted once. Keep your spine straight, like the base of your spine is attached to the ground and the top is stretching upward to the sky. Sit facing forward again and repeat towards the other side.
The number one suggestion I have for staying fit in pregnancy, even if your goal is just to not lie in bed for your last month, is to buy a yoga ball. These things are magical. All of the exercises I shared can be done on the ball, which is easier on your back than sitting on the floor, and simply sitting on the ball and rotating your hips around can be one of the best exercises you can do. I have a lot of back pain and the ball really helps to release the tension.
Finally, be sure to get enough sleep. I don’t sleep particularly well at night, so I take a nap in the morning. Even if you don’t have time to nap, be sure to take time to just sit quietly by yourself and go muscle by muscle in your body and relax them.
Sleep will help you be more cheerful, take away a lot of the anxiety many pregnant women feel, make you less likely to indulge in sugary drinks and foods, and give you the energy to do your stretches.
So remember, while pregnancy isn’t necessarily a time to eat whatever you want, or sit on the couch all day, it absolutely is a time to take care of yourself. Indulge yourself in sleep, in taking care of your body, and in preparing your mind for the arrival of your new baby.
Thanks to the Homstead Hop for the linkup!