Pregnancy can be a beautiful, transformative experience, but can often bring worries and demands that we have not had to deal with before as women.
While your body is working very hard to support a beautiful life growing inside your belly, on the outside you are still maintaining multiple roles that can be quite demanding (such as professional role(s), partner and family obligations).
My first pregnancy was during residency training. I had just started second year residency – this involved more responsibility and higher expectations. When I found out I was pregnant, I had just started as a senior resident in the intensive care unit. Although I had planned my pregnancy, and was incredibly happy, I was also terrified! How is stress going to affect my baby? How is my lack of sleep going to affect her nourishment and growth? Will she be premature because I was working 60 or so hours per week, and doing 30+ hour shifts at a time, taking care of very sick patients and making decisions that could make a difference between life and death? I remember while I was on call in the ICU, I had a patient who was “crashing” and I felt severe stomach cramps. It crossed my mind that my baby was not doing well, but I couldn’t stop doing what I was doing. My priority was to help people and save lives, yet I had to just trust that the little angel life inside me would be ok. On top of this, I was constantly nauseous, a feeling that is just dreadful. It was a tough time. At one point, I actually considered taking a leave due to the potential harm this lifestyle could cause my baby.
My strong desire to overcome this challenge while keeping my baby safe and nourished and striving in residency, led me to a few discoveries that I would love to share with you.
Here are my top 10 tips for making your pregnancy a healthy and joyful journey:
- Meditate. Explore a mindfulness meditation practice that allows you to better cope with anxiety and fear (whether it be about pregnancy, or any additional worries you may have). A systematic review suggests that mindfulness interventions can potentially be used to improve prenatal well being, including reducing levels of depression and anxiety.
- Enroll in a prenatal yoga practice. Yoga helps you rediscover how to unite your movement with your breath, while building a deeper awareness of your body, thoughts and feelings. My instructor used chants and guided visualizations with me and my daughter, and it really helped me connect with my baby.
- Find a doula, or at least speak to one. I think of birth doulas as pregnancy and labor coaches. They assist mothers and/or couples in preparing for the baby’s arrival, offering emotional support and tools of imagery, sound and movement to assist your pregnancy and labor. Continuous support during labor, such as that by a doula, has been shown to decrease the need for pain medications (including epidurals), reduce the time in labor and reduce the rate of c-sections.
- Consider hypnobirthing. Hypnobirthing and guided imagery put me at ease with respect to labor and helped me connect to the process that was occurring in my body. My doula made a hypnosis audio that I listened to every night before bedtime. It also helped me fall asleep and visualize positive, nurturing images of me and my baby.
- Create a birth plan. A birth plan is a great tool for putting your intentions regarding your labor on paper. This way, it is easy for hospital staff and your loved ones to know your preferences, rather than you trying to tell them in between contractions. This is the template I used from bestdoulas.com. I highly recommend that you discuss your plan with your obstetrician or midwife.
- Walk. I walked and took the stairs whenever I could. Being a busy resident did not always leave time for exercise, but I did my best to stretch and move. It improved my energy levels and overall wellbeing. Please check with your doctor before you decide on any exercise or walking regimen.
- Make sure you stay hydrated. Being hydrated is a must for all of us, but pay special attention to your water intake during your pregnancy. I carried a bottle of water in my white coat pocket all the time. If it is a plastic bottle, I recommend using one that is BPA-free. Speak to your doctor about your particular daily water requirements.
- Carry healthy snacks with you. Avoid being caught off guard with a craving for sweets or junk food. I carried around snacks such as apples, nuts, and non-fat cheese sticks (although make sure these are refrigerated!) in my other white coat pocket. Sometimes healthy protein bars can be a good source as well, if you are on the go, although I usually do not recommend processed food.
- Listen to your body. Learn to trust your inner guidance. Being aware of your body’s needs will be an irreplaceable skill for achieving proper hydration, nutrition and movement during pregnancy and childbirth. As mentioned, meditation and yoga are great tools that will aid you in this process.
- Read Ina May Gaskin’s “Guide to Childbirth”. If you have any doubts or fears about your labor, this book will help you deal with them. Look for this guide’s inspiring birth stories that will allow you to trust your body and the process of birthing, and explore your options.
Enjoy every step as a way of letting your baby know he or she is welcome into the world.
I invite you to share the healthy habits you have adopted to help you navigate the mommy-to-be/life balance and how it has helped you manage your pregnancy from a healthier and happier place.