I would love to write a how-to guide that would ensure all future pregnancies across the world are exactly like my title says. But as we are all individual, I can’t. But, I do honestly believe that simple steps I took during my pregnancy did help; I turned a supposed “sickening, aching and exhausting” time in my life into one of genuine health, happiness and energy.
I loved being pregnant, it is such a magical time for any woman to experience, to be one with nature and marvel at the little miracle growing every day inside her body, and I don’t believe that sickness and exhaustion are things we should just accept as part of the course.
There is so much to write about here (a book or e-guide might be better!), so please excuse me if there are areas where it’s pretty clear I’m being brief. But in an effort to not take up too much time or space in your already busy day whilst growing or planning to grow a human (I figure, why else would you be reading this?!), I want to simply highlight my most important aspects.
I cannot stress enough the importance of exercise in pregnancy, even if it’s just walking every day. Exercise gets your body pumping fresh oxygen around your body and most importantly, through the placenta to your baby. It keeps your joints and muscles supple and mobile, helps to maintain your strength for dealing with the extra weight on your body and helps to keep your skin clear. If you’re used to working out, pregnancy shouldn’t stop you; you may need to tailor your workouts to accommodate your bump but most things are safe to continue (with the exception of things like skiing, water sports and horse riding, etc.) Be sensible.
During my pregnancy I continued doing my barefoot, squat-intensive workout at the gym twice per week and took up swimming instead of running, which I vowed to commit to at least twice a week. Rain or shine, warm or cold, I swam (outside in a supposedly heated pool). There were plenty of days I would much rather have laid on the sofa eating warm buttered toast while watching Friends but there wasn’t a single time I pushed myself to go swimming and regretted it. I even swam on my due date (huge), energised and excited.
The 12 days of anticipation that ensued though brought with them some backache (hence the “almost” in this posts title), and I found myself doing exactly what I had fought so hard against during my entire pregnancy, lying on the sofa eating hot buttered toast and watching Friends. Still, I had 40 weeks of regular exercise under my belt and thought it was time for a little balance before my little one finally made an appearance.
The important thing here isn’t about becoming super fit or lean and toned during pregnancy, or pushing yourself to do heavy cardio, it is about movement. If all you can manage is a 20-minute walk (ideally in the fresh, clean air, not along your local high street) and a few yoga stretches per day, it all helps.
- NOURISHMENT and HYDRATION.
Your body is a vessel for the miracle of new human life and it is vitally important you nourish it with all the vitamins, minerals, fats, protein and carbohydrates it needs to function at its best. God knew what he was doing when he formed us to carry on the human race, if your body is deficient in certain areas your baby won’t suffer, it will take everything it needs from you. But YOU will. So overcompensate if you feel the need, you can never eat too many vegetables and fruits at this stage. Listen to your body.
I craved fruit during my pregnancy, particularly oranges and bananas which I’d hardly eaten before, my body clearly needed vitamin C and potassium. Cravings are your body’s way of saying you are lacking in something. But you can make healthy choices with your cravings, for example craving a McDonalds cheeseburger? Maybe you need some iron, make yourself a homemade steak sandwich. Craving ice cream? Try frozen berries and coconut yoghurt (add cacao powder to make it chocolate flavoured). This is a prefect dessert option as it contains minerals, vitamins and wonderful healthy fats and probiotics from the coconut yoghurt. There is something so satisfying about munching on sweet frozen berries.
To provide some inspiration, a typical food day for me would be;
- Hot lemon water, goats milk kefir, goats milk yoghurt with banana, blueberries and mixed seeds – pumpkin, sesame and sunflower.
- Or banana pancakes made with gluten free flour and coconut milk, with bacon.
- Or gluten free oatmeal with berries.
- Salad mix of spinach, rocket and watercress with chicken breast or fresh sardine or mackerel fillets, avocado, pomegranate seeds, sauerkraut or raw slaw, chickpeas, sliced almonds, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Slice of organic rye toast with KerryGold butter (from grass-fed cows).
- Falafal with hummus, salad and pita bread
- Steamed salmon stir fry with quinoa or brown rice noodles
- Or Shephard’s Pie made with sweet potato and swede mash
- Or chicken or fish curry with coconut milk and lentils
- Coconut yoghurt with frozen berries and cacao powder
- Two pieces organic dark chocolate
- Apple and almond butter
- Oatcakes with humus or avocado dip
- Homemade banana bread or muffins.
Drinks – water, water, water. Two litres per day is optimum, do not allow yourself to feel thirsty if you can help it so drink as much water as you can, alongside decaf herbal tea. Lemon and Ginger, Peppermint or Raspberry Leaf are all great in pregnancy.*
*Some herbs such as nettle and raspberry leaf can act as a uterine tonic (they help nourish and “tone” the uterus, great for labour!) However, I avoided these herbs during the first semester. While there is no solid evidence of them causing harm in early pregnancy, since they work to tone the uterus I thought it best to avoid them in the early stages while the baby was forming.
I used to take a range of supplements but when I discovered I was pregnant I cut them down to just three; a wholefood multivitamin, fish oil and probiotics.
Vitamins and supplements are a multi-million-pound industry but most people don’t realise that synthetic supplements aren’t really providing much, if any, benefit. Some can even do harm. Everything you ingest has to be processed by your liver and if your liver thinks something is a foreign substance, it will work hard to break it down and expel it. If your vitamins come in the form of a food source and are taken with food, your body can recognise it as such and thus it is more easily utilised. I like Nature’s Own Pregnancy Support (60 Tablets) which I took every day throughout my entire pregnancy, not just the first three months, and continue whilst breastfeeding.
About Folic Acid
Folic acid is actually a synthetic form of Vitamin B9, it is not naturally found in the human body. L-Methylfolate is the biologically active form of Vitamin B, which is a vital compound used for DNA synthesis and the formation of healthy cells, especially red blood cells. It comes from foods like spinach, watercress, citrus fruits and beans. This compound is a key chemical used in the beginning stages of pregnancy and is crucial for baby’s brain and spine development. Deficiencies in folate have been known to cause spina bifida in babies. Look for Methlyfolate, not just the words Folic Acid on your multivitamin. Current RDA guidelines in the UK are 400mg.
There is an entire human brain developing inside your body so you want to give it all the support you can. 200mg per day DHA contributes to the normal brain development of a foetus and breastfed infants. There is currently some controversy around the sourcing and potential toxins in cod liver oil, so after some research I chose a fish oil supplement from sardine and anchovy. I like Natures Own 550mg Fish Oil 60 Capsules
While babies are mostly sterile in the womb, studies have shown that beneficial bacteria can be passed from mother to the foetus and that probiotic supplementation of the mother during and after pregnancy has been shown to alter the infant’s microbiome, increasing the abundance of beneficial bacteria.
I took Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain Formula – 120 Capsules all throughout my pregnancy as it has the greatest diversity of strains, as well as drinking goats milk kefir daily. Kefir is also wonderful for post-birth recovery as it supports healing and can alleviate constipation. Generally, I find probiotics really helpful at alleviating IBS symptoms, which can also unfortunately become more prominent for some during pregnancy.
What I find most ironic about having a baby is that you spend countless hours and methods trying to get your baby to sleep, whilst at the same time desperately trying to keep yourself awake! If I had been really, honestly prepared for how little sleep I would be faced with having a baby I would have prioritised it a whole lot more in pregnancy.
Don’t sacrifice your sleep. It is so important for yourself and for your growing baby. Sometimes I did struggle to sleep during my pregnancy, either from discomfort, a very active baby at night or because I was anxious about birth and becoming a mother for the first time, but in those moments I found deep breathing incredibly helpful; breathing in for a count of four and out for a count of six.
My house is full of salt lamps and at night, I find their orange glow and warmth particularly calming. Two hours before bed I turn on a filter on my phone called EasyEyes which reduces blue light. I try to restrict my phone use as much as possible at night and read a book. I also diffuse Frankincense and Lavender essential oils, both known for their calming and soothing properties.
Minimising toxic exposure to chemicals is important at any time in our life, but even more so when you are growing a tiny human. Bisphenol A, (BPA) is one of our most widely used chemicals and can be found on every day products like water bottles, metal food cans and store receipts. BPA can act as an endocrine-disrupter, mimicking or blocking hormones naturally produced in and needed by the body. BPA has been linked to several health problems later in life such as asthma, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, infertility, anxiety and depression.
I hate plastic water bottles, they are so bad for us and then they end up dumped in our oceans. It is much kinder on the body and the environment to avoid them as much as possible. Investing in a quality water filter and a reusable glass or stainless-steel bottle is a great way to do this. This glass bottle by Lakeland is covered with a spongy sleeve to make carrying glass a little more practical.
As well as avoiding bottled water, we can limit our exposure to BPA by avoiding taking store receipts or getting them on email, avoiding canned foods and plastic-packaged foods (I know this is challenging).
However, it’s not only what we ingest that has an effect on our body. The skin is actually our largest organ and everything we put on our skin has the potential to be absorbed. Be particularly careful of parabens and hard-to-pronounce chemicals in store-bought lotions and creams. It’s really easy and actually cheaper to make your own moisturising cream with shea butter, coconut oil and essential oils, which have numerous health benefits as well as helping to avoid the use of chemicals. And for the household, thankfully, brands like Ecover and Method make it easy to switch to gentler alternatives to common (and unfortunately highly toxic) household cleaners.
When we are busy with work and maybe other children, it can be so difficult to prioritise ourselves and our health often takes a back seat on our immensely fast journey through life. But pregnancy is such a short journey and likely the most important and exciting one we can take. Nine months is no time and every decision we make can impact the future. I believe that health is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and the little miracle growing inside of us.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information on the use of supplements is based on personal opinion and experience, it is not advice and should not be treated as such. Always seek advice from a medical professional when undertaking a new exercise regime.