Pregnancy is a time of such huge change. Your emotions change, your body, your home. It all changes. And just as an athlete practices for an event, a dancer for a show, or a politician for a debate, so a woman needs to prepare for becoming a mother. She needs to prepare not only her mind, her heart and her soul, but her body too.
My journey of discovery through the maze of pregnancy books, websites and classes led me to the information which I will be sharing with you. What follows is not a doctors list, it’s not a herbalist’s how-to guide and it has not been approved, accredited and otherwise butchered to death. All it is, is what worked for me, and what worked for others I know.
So you’ve found out you’re pregnant. If you’re anything like me, you knew almost as soon as it happened. I took a test two weeks after my last period. I just felt different, although I was still physically fine. I peed on three sticks, to be sure, then burst into tears. You can read about my journey through pregnancy here.
If you’re not like me, you might not have known until you were a month, or two, or three already. In fact, I know one lady who didn’t know till she was over six months, and the little one started moving already!
The bottom line is, the minute you know, you need to start making changes and improvements to your diet (but don’t start eating loads of celery, as it can be an abortive), your health and your habits.
If you smoke, quit now. Not after this pack, not after the next one. Now. What you inhale, your beautiful, perfectly formed, waiting to be born, totally dependent on you, head over hills in adoration for you baby is inhaling. You wouldn’t choose for him or her to be born with asthma, would you? And that would be getting off lightly. At worst you will restrict or retard your baby’s intrauterine growth.
If you drink alcohol, if you can’t cut it out, cut it down. One unit a week is fine. More than that? No. I don’t care what that old wife said.
If you drink caffeine, one cup a day is fine. Remember that soft drinks like coke, some teas and chocolate also have caffeine in them.
Yes, my friend. The sacrifices start early.
Start taking a daily vitamin supplement for pregnancy, and make sure you have plenty of folic acid. You can do this by eating a bag of spinach or its equivalent in green leaves per day, or take the tablet. Don’t have vitamin tablets on an empty stomach as they are more likely to make you nauseas.
Cravings are your body’s way of telling you what your baby needs. Craving chocolate? You probably need iron or magnesium. Craving pints of milk? Your baby’s bones are growing and you need calcium. Craving tar, tile grout, coal, bleach or other dangerous products? Look up Pica. And don’t eat the dangerous products!
You may find that your likes and dislikes change during pregnancy. I loved fish, meat, garlic and green leafy vegetables, and never ate spicy food. During my pregnancy I could not be in the same room as any of those, or coffee, and towards the end of my pregnancy I loved spicy food. I can now eat all my favourites again, although the smell of fish and burgers still make me queasy, and I add chilli flakes to almost all my food now!
You do not, in fact, need to eat for two. Doing so will do you no favours. If you desire something, have a large glass of water. If you still desire it, go for it. Often we mistake thirst for hunger.
Exercise is really important during pregnancy, but if you are not a regular exerciser, now is not the time to start running marathons! Gentle pregnancy yoga will go a long way to preparing your body, your mind and if you have a good instructor, your pelvic floor.
Use a swiss ball or yoga ball to do figure of eights every day. This is to help the baby into the right position, preferably with his/her back to your belly. You can also rest on the ball with your arms while you are in a kneeling position (and doing occasional pelvic floor exercises) while you watch TV, for example. This also encourages your baby in to the correct position.
It’s interesting to note that there has been a massive increase in back-to-back babies since women stopped doing a lot of manual work, such as scrubbing the floor on hands and knees. Babies also tend to be back-to-back because we now slump on the sofa or sit at a desk most of the day.
Exercising your pelvic floor is very important. It prevents against a leaky bladder towards the end, for one thing, but it also makes labour a little easier and helps you gain control of your ablutions again after the birth.
To exercise your pelvic floor, when you go to the loo to wee, stop the flow midstream, and hold it. Once you know what that feels like, practice that move when you boil the kettle, when you stand in line at the grocery store, or when you watch your daily television show. Whatever it is you do, pick a time every day (or a few times a day) to practice them. Your bladder, your ego, and your sex life will thank you.
Stretching your perineum will go a long way towards not tearing during delivery. This NHS Website has some great information on how to do so manually. If that doesn’t work for you (I couldn’t reach over my belly!) then you can have your partner do it for you. We weren’t comfortable with how â€˜clinical’ that felt, so we went with option three. An expensive, but excellent little machine called the Epi-No. I’ve written a fair bit about it, so search it on my blog, or look at their website.
It is worth knowing too, that many women who have water births say that they don’t experience the terrible burning, tearing sensation as the baby comes out. I agree. I didn’t experience her actual birth as painful at all.
Preparing your uterus and cervix for childbirth is as important as studio time is to a dancer. Of course, you can’t reach in there, so you need to try other ways, such as red raspberry leaf tea and evening primrose oil.
Red Raspberry Leaf Tea is not able to induce labour, contrary to popular belief. What it can do is make you think you’re going into labour by causing the uterus to contract slightly. But this is what it’s meant to do. That is how it practises and prepares the uterus by strengthening and toning it, similar to Braxton Hicks contractions.
In some women it can actually cause labour-like cramps. I was one of those women. I started taking it at 32 weeks, and spent two days thinking I might be in labour, until I stopped drinking the tea. I started again at 37 weeks and had no problems.
The recommendation is that you start drinking 1 cup a day at 34 weeks, 2 cups a day at 35 weeks, 3 cups a day at 36 weeks, and 4 cups a day until your baby is born. After the birth you start at 4 cups a day, and work your way back down over four weeks. This tea is also excellent to drink when you have your periods again later on.
Evening Primrose Oil prepares and softens the cervix. Start by drinking 1 capsule a day at 36 weeks. Up that to two capsules a day at 37 weeks, at 38 weeks have three capsules a day, and insert one just inside the vagina when you go to bed (you don’t want to push it up – remember there’s a baby’s head engaged in there now!)
Your finger shouldn’t even go up when you’re inserting. At 39 weeks, still drink 3 capsules a day and pop one capsule inside. At 40 weeks start drinking two capsules in the morning, and two in the evening and pop two inside at night. Keep doing this till you go in to labour. Hopefully by now your cervix will be nice and soft, making your baby’s entry in to this world a little easier.
Finally, visualisation might be a little out there for some people, but preparing your mind for what is about to happen is just as important as every other organ. I used to lie in bed listening to pregnancy-oriented relaxation CDs and visualise how I wanted the birth to happen.
I imagined myself in the pool. I guessed what labour would be like, my reaction to things and the moment of my baby’s birth. Nothing came close to the real thing, but having prepared my mind for all eventualities I was able to have the calm and peaceful birth I had prepared myself for.
Go on Youtube and watch birth videos, read books about birth, read birth stories. Know what could happen, what you could be confronted with, and what you might face. Know what your options are. Know what you’re comfortable with, and what you are not. Read, read, read, learn, learn, learn, prepare.
Don’t just go into the most reality-changing day of your life trusting something this big to anyone else.
I spoke to a midwife recently who said that the best births she had ever attended were those of informed women. It is your responsibility, and your privilege, and it will also be your reward.
*this post has been approved by a qualified midwife