Natural Support for a Healthy Pregnancy
Nurture is a new department for HB Magazine! Over the next 12 months, Allison Prater will cover topics ranging from prenatal health to simplicity parenting. We hope you enjoy the first installment of this exciting new series…
Pregnancy is one of the most amazing transformations that we as women get to experience. As someone who has been studying to be a doula, and is currently embarking on the adventure of motherhood herself, I thought I’d share some information on how to support a healthy, happy pregnancy. You should still consult with your care provider about any concerns you may have before undertaking any of these suggestions.
The first trimester of pregnancy is one of the most dramatic changes. All of the baby’s essential structures have been formed within about eight weeks. From here on out they continue to grow and develop. Because your body is working so hard to grow this new human being during this time, you may experience two of the most classic early pregnancy symptoms: nausea and fatigue.
Personally, I think the term “morning sickness” is a misnomer, as many women– myself included–experience nausea and sensitivity to smells at all hours of the day and night. Some women may find it difficult to eat or to keep food down. This usually lasts through the 14th week of pregnancy. The nausea is a caused by increased levels of estrogen and progesterone, equivalent to taking 100 birth control pills a day! These hormone fluctuations cause the digestive system to slow down and become softer. This may cause some constipation as well.
Gentle exercise, such as a walk, yoga, or some other form of low impact fitness is a great way to get some relief. This helps reduce the levels of acid and carbon dioxide that build up in the blood; it can also help to combat fatigue and constipation. Eating small frequent meals is advisable, as having an empty stomach can make things worse. Eating some crackers or toast upon waking can help to absorb stomach acid and keep foods down. Emphasize complex carbohydrates and complete proteins in your diet. Sugary foods will cause your blood sugar levels to fluctuate dramatically, and oily foods are difficult to digest. Be sure to stay well hydrated. I found water with fresh lemon squeezed into it to be particularly helpful. Avoid sugar laden sodas, and drink mineral water if you are craving something fizzy. Vitamin B-6 can be helpful for relieving nausea and regulating blood sugar levels. Ginger is a celebrated anti-nausea herb, but should be taken in small doses, with caution. It is an emmenagogue (able to stimulate menstruation in large amounts), therefore it should be avoided altogether if you have a history of miscarriage. Chamomile and peppermint teas are safe, soothing herbs.
The second trimester of pregnancy is sometimes called, “the honeymoon period.” By this time, you generally start to feel better; the nausea subsides and your energy returns. Though you are starting to show, you are still able to move around and sleep pretty comfortably. This is also when you start to feel your baby’s first movements. One common issue that many women experience during this stage is headaches. Sometimes this is because of stress, or lack of rest. Other times it is due to an iron or protein deficiency. Having a high-protein breakfast, and at least one more serving of a complete protein, daily can eliminate headaches. Adding calcium and magnesium to the diet is also helpful. This can be taken it in the form of a supplement and by making sure to include lots of leafy greens in your diet.
By the third trimester of pregnancy your baby is growing rapidly. This can put added strain on your muscles. Some women may start to experience aches and pains in the low back, upper back, shoulders and hips. They may find it difficult to sleep comfortably. Some say that the interrupted sleep one experiences while pregnant is preparing you for waking up during the night with your baby. Prenatal massage, yoga, pilates, dance and swimming are all beneficial to your body, helping you to maintain healthy alignment. Sitting on an inflatable exercise ball instead of chairs and couches can help keep your pelvis in a good position. A hot bath with epsom salts, and essential oils such as lavender, rosemary, lemon balm, or a combination of these, can help to soothe muscle aches. These oils can also be combined with carrier oils such as coconut or sweet almond oil to create relaxing massage oils. Paying attention and practicing good posture throughout the day is essential.
The baby is taking up an increased amount of space in your abdomen; it is normal to experience a feeling of fullness after eating a small amount of food, and sometimes even heartburn. Avoiding heavy, oily or spicy foods, especially at the evening meal, can reduce this symptom. Try to eat your last meal about two hours before bed, as lying down aggravates heartburn. Slippery elm lozenges can bring relief, and they are perfectly safe as long as they don’t contain other herbs such as coltsfoot or comfrey root.
There are many more common issues that take place during pregnancy, but to describe them in detail is beyond the scope of this article. Some of the best guidelines for a healthy, happy pregnancy are the simplest. Eat a balanced diet of whole, organic foods, being sure to include plenty of complete proteins, calcium, whole grains, and a variety of fruits and veggies. Choose an organic, food-based prenatal vitamin. DHA is another beneficial supplement. Drink lots of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Get regular exercise and rest when you need to. Most importantly, listen to your body. It will tell you when you need to eat, sleep, etc. Tuning into your body’s needs is teaching you to listen to your baby’s needs, preparing you for the amazing adventure that is motherhood.
1. Romm, Aviva Jill. The Natural Pregnancy Book. Celestial Arts. Berkeley, 2003.
2. Gaskin, Ina May. Spiritual Midwifery. Book Publishing Co. Summertown, TN, 1975.