You’re not sick, you’re pregnant.
Unfortunately, in times gone by preggos (as I affectionately refer to them, as I did to myself when ‘with child’) were treated as invalids, confined to their beds for the majority of the term!
(I'm very sorry for anyone who has any condition that also confines them to a bed, ultimately we should be up and about but I appreciate sometimes this is not possible.)
One of the best things you can do for your and your baby’s health is to continue exercising, but pay attention to your body and check with your Dr if you’re worried about anything. I happily played squash right into my second trimester with my first and kept running until I became too heavy with my second. My stomach eventually felt like it was pulling me down (the looks on people’s faces as I plodded past were hilarious) so I eased up and stuck to walking. There are plenty of prenatal exercise classes around now, and I would encourage you to partake because trying to attempt postnatal pilates or yoga with a screaming baby in the pram or on the floor in front of you just doesn’t produce the same calming effect of these gentle practices. It obviously wouldn’t be wise to all of a sudden take up kick-boxing or the likes, but gentle exercise will make you and bubs feel good.
Movement in labour can also be the key to a smoother birth so getting your body used to it early will help you automate the process, in particular I found sitting and bouncing gently on an exercise ball to be the best way to ease contractions. Plus, you can use it for all sorts of different positions.
The benefits of exercise also go far beyond the birth. Exercise is know to help with depression, and studies have shown that there can be negative impact on babies (shown in the APGAR scores) if mums are depressed, stressed or anxious during pregnancy.
The goal should really be to have the smoothest birth possible so as not to stress you or the baby. Interventions of any kind (chemical or mechanical) are known to sometimes stress babies (observed from results in APGAR scores) and anything impacting on those precious moments right after birth should be removed wherever possible. We do not fully understand the complexities of all of the cascades kicked off during the natural birth process, but we would be wise to aim for minimal intervention and let Mother Nature do her thing as she has been for millions of years. Of course this is not always possible for the safety of mum and baby but if it is important to you it provides a good point of focus, and it is empowering to believe that YOU CAN DO THIS.
C-section babies,for example have higher risks of asthma, allergies, obesity and diabetes, and are less likely to be breastfed. They are not bathed in the natural bacterial environment of the birth canal which kicks off the seeding of their brand-new immune system and they are not appropriately squeezed through the narrow passage to expel a lot of the remaining amniotic fluid out of their lungs.
An epidural can lower your body’s natural production of oxytocin (otherwise known as the love or bonding hormone) which stimulates contractions and allows you to bond with baby.
The most important thing really is to listen to your body. Really listen. Eat when you need to eat, actually fruit juices (not something I would normally advocate as they’re all the sugar without the fibre) are brilliant for easy to consume calories and sweetness through a straw when you need it quick.
Move to the position you feel you need to be in, don’t worry about the things (or people!) in the room if they aren’t helping you and certainly don’t worry about what you look like! This is where specialist birthing centres with lots of different options and even a nice, warm birthing pool, can be better than a hospital room with an uncomfortable bed.
Even pain is a way for your body to communicate with you so that you know what to do and when to do it, I know it hurts (it will take you to another level) but go with it as much as possible, let your natural and animal instincts come through and don’t give a shit what anyone else in the room thinks – what you’re doing is nothing short of a miracle and I can pretty much guarantee that anyone lucky enough to witness a birth will be in awe of what your body can do.
Focusing on breathing was a game changer for me. Trying to suck in the gas and air through a ridiculous plastic thing mouth guard contraption expended far too much energy for me, so I found the face mask version much better as it meant I could also focus on breathing normally. I think if I had practiced some focused breathing prior to the birth I would have been better equipped when the contractions got really serious, but actually I managed OK just focusing on my breath. This is of course a kind of meditation!
If you understand the power of homeopathy there are some great birth kits available with clear instructions for your partner to deliver the appropriate remedies at the right times (a good example is when you scream ‘I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE’ that’s a sign for a different remedy! There are remedies for exhaustion, nausea and back pain for example). I also love the power of essential oils to perk me up (although there are some you should avoid during pregnancy so do your research first, here's a great resource from Wellness Mama).
Another way to reduce stress is to be prepared. A considered birth plan, or literally a few points written down to indicate the kind of birth you would like, is important to give the event direction. However, everyone should also be prepared to go with the flow if things don’t quite go according to plan. You should have seen my midwife’s face when I handed her an instruction sheet on how I wanted my placenta handled, and the coolbox I provided for her to put it in!! I was lucky that she was very open to this part of my birth plan and she followed my wishes to the tea for which I am very grateful.
I’ve also seen too many strong women reduced to tears having been intimidated and bullied into making decisions they didn’t want to when at their most vulnerable; breastfeeding being a good example. Try and surround yourself with positive, affirming people to support you during this most precious time. Don’t agree to things you’re not sure about, and understand that there may come a time when you simply cannot make decisions because you are overwhelmed, so your partner will have to step in, they are more important during this time than any other (except maybe conception?!). If you can think about some of these things ahead of time and understand what a good outcome looks like for you, it can help you achieve this.
A relatively new service becoming available is employing a ‘doula’ for support during the birth. You can spend time with a doula leading up to the birth and can therefore convey the kind of outcomes you want and you can trust the Doula to be speak for you.
Without getting into the detail of some of the more controversial topics such as vaccinations (both in pregnancy and for baby), a good principle, and one that I live by, is that you should always ask ‘why?’ until you’re satisfied with the answer because it allows you to make an informed decision and work out your own risk tolerance. This is your body and your child, and I think you’ll be surprised about how the emotional connection changes your perspective, so be responsible and ensure you understand what you are being asked to do and why you are being asked to do it. Then you can decide which option to take and be comfortable with what you have decided.
This topic deserves a whole Blog of it's own, which when I write it I'll link to here. But if you’re wondering what I did with my placenta after delivering it, it went something like this:
- Baby born ~6am, placenta handled carefully, placed in provided packaging and kept in cool box
- 10am left hospital and returned home
- That afternoon an encapsulation specialist came to my house, effectively dissected my placenta to use some of it in a fresh, berry smoothie for me to consume then and there
- The remainder was taken back to her workshop where she carried out a dehydration and distillation process to provide me with capsules and tinctures for future use
- I consumed the capsules over the next few weeks/months and still use the tinctures years later, I’m keeping one of them for use during menopause
- I was back up and around within days (you have to be like that when it’s your second child), my milk came in very quickly (in the form of HUMONGOUS boobs!) and I felt ‘normal’ pretty much the day after giving birth – coincidence? Or smoothie? You decide.....
For further information contact one of the larger Placenta organisations:
- Placenta Network (UK, Ireland, Spain, Australia)
- Placenta Association (Australia, Canada, USA, New Zealand)
The final blog in this 4 part series on Pregnancy is up next, New Mums (and Dads of course).