Pregnancy is time that we all hope to cherish. It evokes images of nurseries, glowing mamas-to-be, picturesque baby bumps, and the many cozy cuddles to come. But between morning sickness, hormones, and a myriad of other unpleasant pregnancy symptoms—not to mention navigating the usual ups and downs of everyday life—it is not always the uplifting experience we envision. It is common to feel stressed by the physical and emotional changes you will be experiencing, to feel anxious about your health, your baby’s health, or the realities of labor and delivery—and even impending parenthood. With all this going on, it is easy to find yourself viewing the months ahead like a road that stretches endlessly through a barren and tedious landscape, and spend most of it just yearning for it to be over.
But pregnancy is also the time when we—and our growing babies—can benefit the most by feeling grounded and happy. No one and no plan can promise you complete relief, but there are ways to help take the edge off for a healthier, more mindful (and relaxed) pregnancy.
- Be mindful at the table:
It’s easy to say “be mindful,” but it’s a lot harder to actually do it, especially when it comes to eating. And eating during pregnancy is a loaded topic in its own right: We feel pressure to eat well for our babies, just as nausea, cravings, and aversions are seriously interfering with even the best of intentions. We feel pressured to gain the right amount of weight at the right pace, and we’re surrounded on all sides by conflicting advice about what we can or can’t eat.
But it doesn’t have to be so hard! Begin with a reminder to yourself to keep it simple. Tune out what is unhelpful, and tune in to how your body feels. In conjunction with your doctor or midwife, create a short list of foods to avoid and balance it with a list of foods that are encouraged. Try to hit multiple food groups, not just to achieve a more balanced diet, but so that when aversions come knocking you might still have some easy go-to options left to you.
When cravings hit, ask yourself “what is the healthiest way to satisfy this craving?” and go from there. Consider also the concept of “crowding out.” Simply put, if you fill up on healthy things, there will be less room for less nutritious foods. This is especially true during pregnancy, as there is less room for your stomach to expand in your belly. You might find that you are limited to eating small quantities at a time—instead of eating meals, you might benefit from frequent small snacks. Keep a supply of healthy stuff to munch on, and you’ll likely find yourself indulging less.
Lastly, give yourself a little grace. Your body wants what it wants, and the signals are not always easy to interpret—or ignore—especially during pregnancy. If your diet wasn’t what you wanted it to be today, forgive yourself and move on—tomorrow is a new day. No one is served by continuing to stress about it.
- Slow down:
As your pregnancy advances, you may not have a choice: your body simply won’t be capable of moving at its usual speed. But even before then, you and your baby can benefit from a slower pace in life. Many people go into a sort of forced overdrive during pregnancy in order to prepare for life with a baby. That’s important, but you’ll get some help from your hormones when your nesting instincts kick in. Until then, don’t force it. And if there are responsibilities you can drop or reduce now, do it! Listen to what your body is telling you—if you feel tired, take a nap. If your back or feet are sore, think creatively about how you can move through your day more comfortably. For example, you can read or research everything baby while sitting or lying down—so why not put your feet up, Mama? Life can’t always be put on pause, but being pregnant is pretty much universally acknowledged justification for canceling plans, saying no, or taking on less. Enjoy it while you can!
- Get moving:
Even though slowing down is important, you don’t have to slow to a complete stop. In fact, there are many benefits for you and your baby if you can incorporate a moderate amount of exercise into your routines. Always consult your care provider about your fitness intentions during pregnancy, of course, but unless he or she has completely ruled it out, you have options. Many women will be cleared by their doctors to continue their normal fitness routines well into pregnancy, but as pregnancy advances—or if you didn’t work out much to speak of before pregnancy—consider trying prenatal yoga, walking, seated arm exercises, or gentle water aerobics. Exercises like these are great for connecting with our bodies (and babies) in a mellow, relaxed setting. And incorporating gentle movement into our days can help us to unwind faster at night.
- Ask for help:
How, you might find yourself wondering at this point, can I make the time in an already busy life to do all these other things, on top of the added requirements that come with being pregnant, such as doctor’s appointments and preparing for the baby? And then to slow down as you go about it all? The answer is simple: you can’t. The math just doesn’t add up. But with help from those around you, you can free up that time and space. It can be hard to ask for help, but it is an excellent life skill to master—and very important just now. With any luck, you may not have to ask much—your friends and family may have already offered help in spades. But either way, people like feeling helpful, especially to pregnant ladies.
Housework and meal prep are two big areas where almost anyone can step in and help ease some of the burden. Childcare is another, if you already have children. Maybe “help” means your partner picking up some of the slack, maybe it is in-person help from friends and family, maybe it is even paid help. Maybe it means that all or part of your baby shower registry is a call for freezer meals, housecleaning packages, gift certificates for massages, etc. Maybe it means your partner taking the kids to the gym to use the childcare services there while he works out, so that you can have some down time. Maybe it means finding just a small amount of room in your budget for a meal planning and delivery service, like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh—the meal may not be made for you, but at least the shopping and decision-making are taken care of. And any less-able cooks in your household can presumably follow the simple directions. The opportunities are endless, and asking is the hardest part. If you find yourself feeling guilty, just remember: you’re not asking for yourself, you’re asking for your child’s sake.
- Schedule time for yourself:
Now it is time to bring it all together. Once you’ve freed up some time and have a plan for what to do with it—you have to protect that time and space. It’s very, very easy to get distracted and squander that time on other things. Avoid this trap by scheduling blocks of time in your calendar for self-care. Maybe it’s time to meditate, or work out, or just to nap. Maybe it’s down time with your partner or to catch up via facetime with a friend. Aim to make some time, every day, just for things that are good for your well-being. You’re making a date with yourself, and if you write it down, you are that much more likely to keep it!